Flintoff is ready - Strauss
Andrew Flintoff's body has been letting him down along with his alarm clock and over the next two months he should discover how much time he has left in the Test arena. Flintoff is only 31 but has lived a hard life and rehabilitation has been such a central part of it that it would border on a miracle if he played all five Ashes matches.
Back in 2005 Flintoff was the main character in the drought-breaking success, but during the following series in Australia he was more of a sideshow, being warned about his drinking and leading the team to a 5-0 defeat. His last Test came against West Indies in February and was followed by knee surgery after he joined the IPL, an operation which threatened his Ashes campaign.
He has made it and impressed Andrew Strauss, who last week was disappointed his allrounder missed the bus for a team bonding trip to Belgium, with his work in the warm-up game against Warwickshire and his effort during training over the past two days. "He's very motivated because he's been away for a while," Strauss said. "All those hours and days and months of rehab, you do it with one goal in mind.
"That was to get back and play in this Ashes series. Focus isn't going to be a problem for him. He's going to come and roar in and make life difficult for them."
A side strain forced Flintoff home from the Test series in the Caribbean at the start of the year and he has also had regular problems with his ankle. "A number of injuries, one after another, can really eat away at your motivation and you start wondering, am I ever going to be back to my best," Strauss said. "From the way he bowled against Warwickshire and the way he's bowled in the nets, he's very close at the moment. He's hugely motivated to play well."
While Flintoff is a certainty, Monty Panesar must edge out Graham Onions for a spot in the side. He had a long workout at training on Wednesday while Onions' session was light, a potential pointer to England employing two spinners. Strauss knows the side he wants but will wait until before the toss to reveal it.
Panesar, who has appeared in 38 Tests, has had a horrible time with Northamptonshire this season, taking six Championship wickets at 86.66. "He's put in a lot of hard work in and maybe some of the stuff that he's gone through at Northants has been a real benefit for him," Strauss said. "There's some more variation there and in the nets he's bowled accurately with good turn and bounce."
Panesar was not picked to play in the home series against West Indies and has fallen behind the offspinner Graeme Swann as the first-choice slow bowler. The pitch, which is expected to turn, will be a significant factor in England's decision-making and Strauss backed Panesar to perform if picked.
"Monty is a very good Test player, he's proved that a number of times," he said. "He hasn't had the best of seasons but there's something about being back in the England fold that turns on a light for him. It helps him reconnect with his past success.
"He's got his own unique role in the side off the field and he feels comfortable in that environment, that will bring out the best in him. It only takes one wicket early and any bad form you've had previously goes out the window."
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo