Strauss confirms Bell will bat at No. 4
Andrew Strauss expects Andrew Flintoff to be fit for the third Ashes Test against Australia at Edgbaston on Thursday, and has confirmed that Ian Bell will bat at No. 4 in place of the injured Kevin Pietersen.
Flintoff, who retires from Test cricket at the end of the Ashes, continues to struggle with a chronic knee injury which has threatened to hasten his retirement. But Strauss has been encouraged by Flintoff's fitness and remains confident that England's allrounder will be fit enough to once again lead the attack.
"All the indications are that Andrew will be fine. We need to see how he goes over the next couple of days during practice," Strauss said at The Oval, where England announced their new team sponsors, Brit Insurance. "But at this stage we are very confident and obviously he will want to build on his performance at Lord's.
"I spoke to him the day after the second Test at a charity dinner and he said then he was recovering well. That's encouraging. He won't have bowled until practice tomorrow but has been in constant contact with our medical team. When you've had as many injuries as him you get a good indication of how you're feeling. Everything we've heard so far has been positive."
Flintoff produced a typically talismanic final-day effort at Lord's last week, taking five wickets for just the third time in his career as England ended a 75-year wait to beat Australia at the home of cricket. But while England can be heartened by Flintoff's news, another instrumental player, Pietersen, has been ruled out of the series after undergoing Achilles surgery.
Strauss confirmed that his replacement, Bell, will bat at No. 4 instead of shuffling the line-up to accommodate him. "Ian Bell will come in for Pietersen at four. We're very clear on that," Strauss said. "It causes the least possible disruption to other members of the side.
"We're all very excited for Ian. He was left out of the team and had to work very hard to get his place back. He's done a huge amount of work on and off the field. He's very hungry. We're excited to have him back in the team."
Bell was dropped earlier this year after a string of inconsistent performances, with Ravi Bopara taking his place at No. 3. Bopara may not have set the Ashes alight, yet, but Bell - who himself has struggled against Australia in his two previous Ashes appearances - is confident he is in the right frame of mind, and in good enough form, to make the most of this surprise opportunity.
"Of all the countries I've played, I've played well apart from against Australia. I know that - it's in the back of my mind," Bell told Sky Sports News. "This is a different Australian team than I've played in the past, but a very fine one as well. But cricket's a stats game, and I've got those stats to put right and to improve on."
Shane Warne reignited an old friendship with Bell today when he wrote in his Times column that he hoped Bell's return to England colours "will hopefully be greeted with 'welcome back, Shermanator', the nickname I gave him in 2006."