England v Australia, 4th Test, Headingley, 3rd day August 9, 2009

The Flintoff conundrum

21

To pick him or not to pick him, that's still the question for England. Andrew Flintoff has become this series' Glenn McGrath, missing the Ashes Test which his side lost, and will spend the next week trying to prove he is capable of getting five more days out of his brittle knee.

Told by Andrew Strauss on the first morning he was not playing, Flintoff's future will be determined much earlier at The Oval, where England need him more than ever. However, any Flintoff appearance comes with conditions: he must be able to be able to bowl two spells a day and can't break down in his final Test before retirement.

He won't play as a specialist batsman despite the problems in the innings-and-80-run defeat at Headingley, which meant England have to win in south London to lift the urn. "Ideally we'll be in a better situation to get a result early for that final Test," Strauss said of Flintoff's condition. "Hopefully we'll know two or three days out whether he's fit or not."

Flintoff's late withdrawal from the team added to England's muddled moods on the opening day, when they were dropped for 102, and they also missed his ability to hurry the batsmen during Australia's confident first innings of 445. "He's still desperate to play in that final Test but he realises he's got to be fit enough," Strauss said. "I'm very hopeful he will."

Ricky Ponting said England could win without Flintoff but the task would be much harder. Flintoff is the only player in the home side that the Australians fear and they would say so if they knew he wasn't going to be available. "We prepared this week as if he was going to play," Ponting said, "and we will prepare for the next Test as if he's going to play as well."

England can't do that because Flintoff creates such significant changes in the side's balance and attitude. If he's out the hosts must consider picking a batsman at seven or keeping the bowler-heavy line-up that failed in Leeds. With a fitness clearance Flintoff clears up all their worries and can come back in for Steve Harmison.

"If he's going to play he's got to be fit to play his role and that's as an allrounder," Strauss said. "Maybe he doesn't need to bowl 28 overs a day but he's got to be able to bowl more than one spell. We felt for this game that he was unable to do that. But having had a couple of weeks' break, hopefully he's in a better position."

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • drinks.break on August 12, 2009, 2:45 GMT

    Given England's marked inferiority with the bat, Flintoff isn't going to be the person to solve their woes. Yes, if he plays a blinder, as he does once every 10 tests or so, he might belt a quickfire 70, but even that won't be nearly enough to fix their batting order. They need someone of the quality of a Clarke or a North who can patiently and reliably construct an innings-building 100. Flintoff just isn't anywhere near their class when it comes to batting, and that's what England needs. Play him as a bowler if he's fit enough, but not as an allrounder. That's just asking for trouble.

  • drinks.break on August 12, 2009, 2:40 GMT

    whits106, you're being delusional if you think England's batting has only had one bad game. Even before the Leeds test the Australians had it all over the English in terms of runs scored and player averages, while the bowling of the two sides was fairly even (England's 1-0 lead was due to one Flintoff spell rather than any overall superiority). You seem to have forgotten Cardiff, where the Australians lost only 6 wickets for the match while England lost 19 - that's a sizeable margin and indicates a significant disparity between the teams. By contrast, at Lords it was only 20 to 16 in England's favour - a much closer result. And then in Australia's 2nd innings of the 3rd test, they easily surpassed England's previous innings total for the loss of only 5 wickets.

    But if you (and the England team) want to keep believing that they've been doing OK with the bat, I'm sure the Australians won't complain!

  • Josephus72 on August 12, 2009, 2:05 GMT

    This is fantastic from the point of view of a one-eyed Australian. England so shaken by the nightmare at Leeds, that everyone's in a complete panic about selection while the Australians simply go about their business, getting rested, getting mentally ready for the Oval. Really just the one decision to make for them and that's up to the state of the pitch. Regardless of his reasonably wise words at the 4th test presentation following the drubbing his team received, Strauss is going to be a psychological mess - how could one not be when Ramps and Key and Tresthco and Boycs and Beefy and Grace keep being bandied about? Hilarious stuff! Please play Flintoff - as soon as he shows one speck, one tiny iota of soreness or fatigue, just watch how the Aussies lift and pounce. It happened when he slipped at Birmingham and from that point Australia finished strongly. Like a lion hunting a wounded gazelle, it will be just a matter of watching and waiting until the knee gives in, then - Endgame.

  • lazo on August 11, 2009, 14:13 GMT

    Dropping Harmison for Flintoff is the wrong move and shows up the poor analysis by selectors,coach and capltain. It should be clear to them that flintoff apart, Harmison, even allowing for his waywardness is capable of picking a wicket or 2 or 3 with a brute delivery that can dismiss a top order batsmen. The other bowlers Anderson, Onions and Broad cannot be relied on for that. Look at their ordinary test bowling averages, even worse against Australia What is more the Aussies would prefer to face those three. That should be a clue. You need firepower to win the Ashes and only Flintoff and Harmison can provide it.

  • bonner on August 11, 2009, 10:30 GMT

    could be a disaster, freddie. think of it - breaking down in your last test! just a thought....

  • mukearch on August 11, 2009, 10:00 GMT

    hello frnds, I think flintoff should have played in the 4 th test . A player of his capability is an asset to a team , player of his quality brings an extra confidence in the side as the team looks much balanced as he is a class of player who can bowl 50 overs for his side and can go and bat for for the whole day as we saw in the 3 rd test he made a fabulous 74 off 78 balls . And i think that he should play the final test of his carrear and help his team regain the ashes and end his carrear in a winning note just like Mcgrath and warne and martyn ended their carrear in 2007 on a high note. i being a freddy fan wish him good luck for the forthcoming test and may England regain ashes after they lost it to aussies in australia.

  • whits106 on August 11, 2009, 8:29 GMT

    jazman84 - England's batting has had one terrible game and you're saying they're too frail and shouldn't be playing. Why wasn't there such a big thing about this before the 4th test? Because they were winning. Similar to Australia's bowling, to be honest, expect for Hilfy, has been below average up untill the last test, and Huss should be dropped he's barely done a thing over the last 18 months.

    Seriously, leave the side as is (Bring in AF and KP if they're fit). They had one bad game. If anything i'd drop JA for MP. I think the middle order justneeds a re shuffle. RB isn't a number 3 batsman. He has talent and class, his technique and temperment for a No. 3 leave alot to be desired. Drop him to 5, IB to 3 and PC to 4.

  • jazman84 on August 11, 2009, 5:16 GMT

    Is KP any chance? if not. Australia will win this. England's Middle order is to frail. I thought Collingwood might step up, but it remains to be seen. I'd like to see Ramprakash recalled though. Add some solidarity to the lineup. His body is standing the test of time. If only Freddie and Simon Jones had his longevity...

  • TheDoctor394 on August 10, 2009, 21:18 GMT

    While I don't deny the quality of Andrew Flintoff, the fact remains that, since 2005, statistics show that England are more likely to win with him out of the side, than in it (I think I'm right in saying that, before this Ashes series, since 2005, England had won 3 matches and lost 13 with him in the side, and won 12 and lost 2 with him out of it). Admittedly, most of those victories without him have been against the likes of New Zealand and the West Indies, but both he and Peterson were in the side that was rolled for 51 in the Caribbean earlier in the year. I'm not convinced that those two players, outstanding as they are, are as crucial to England's fortunes as people are making them out to be.

  • Pietro117 on August 10, 2009, 20:08 GMT

    Freddie has to play for three reasons: he's essential to the balance of the side - Broad's just not a reliable enough allrounder yet; he inspires the side - despite what the stats may say, the team is just play better with him than without; and finally, it may be sentimental, but he can't retire from Test cricket without a final send-off. The thousands of people whom he has turned into cricket lovers deserve the opportunity to say goodbye and give him the send-off he deserves

  • drinks.break on August 12, 2009, 2:45 GMT

    Given England's marked inferiority with the bat, Flintoff isn't going to be the person to solve their woes. Yes, if he plays a blinder, as he does once every 10 tests or so, he might belt a quickfire 70, but even that won't be nearly enough to fix their batting order. They need someone of the quality of a Clarke or a North who can patiently and reliably construct an innings-building 100. Flintoff just isn't anywhere near their class when it comes to batting, and that's what England needs. Play him as a bowler if he's fit enough, but not as an allrounder. That's just asking for trouble.

  • drinks.break on August 12, 2009, 2:40 GMT

    whits106, you're being delusional if you think England's batting has only had one bad game. Even before the Leeds test the Australians had it all over the English in terms of runs scored and player averages, while the bowling of the two sides was fairly even (England's 1-0 lead was due to one Flintoff spell rather than any overall superiority). You seem to have forgotten Cardiff, where the Australians lost only 6 wickets for the match while England lost 19 - that's a sizeable margin and indicates a significant disparity between the teams. By contrast, at Lords it was only 20 to 16 in England's favour - a much closer result. And then in Australia's 2nd innings of the 3rd test, they easily surpassed England's previous innings total for the loss of only 5 wickets.

    But if you (and the England team) want to keep believing that they've been doing OK with the bat, I'm sure the Australians won't complain!

  • Josephus72 on August 12, 2009, 2:05 GMT

    This is fantastic from the point of view of a one-eyed Australian. England so shaken by the nightmare at Leeds, that everyone's in a complete panic about selection while the Australians simply go about their business, getting rested, getting mentally ready for the Oval. Really just the one decision to make for them and that's up to the state of the pitch. Regardless of his reasonably wise words at the 4th test presentation following the drubbing his team received, Strauss is going to be a psychological mess - how could one not be when Ramps and Key and Tresthco and Boycs and Beefy and Grace keep being bandied about? Hilarious stuff! Please play Flintoff - as soon as he shows one speck, one tiny iota of soreness or fatigue, just watch how the Aussies lift and pounce. It happened when he slipped at Birmingham and from that point Australia finished strongly. Like a lion hunting a wounded gazelle, it will be just a matter of watching and waiting until the knee gives in, then - Endgame.

  • lazo on August 11, 2009, 14:13 GMT

    Dropping Harmison for Flintoff is the wrong move and shows up the poor analysis by selectors,coach and capltain. It should be clear to them that flintoff apart, Harmison, even allowing for his waywardness is capable of picking a wicket or 2 or 3 with a brute delivery that can dismiss a top order batsmen. The other bowlers Anderson, Onions and Broad cannot be relied on for that. Look at their ordinary test bowling averages, even worse against Australia What is more the Aussies would prefer to face those three. That should be a clue. You need firepower to win the Ashes and only Flintoff and Harmison can provide it.

  • bonner on August 11, 2009, 10:30 GMT

    could be a disaster, freddie. think of it - breaking down in your last test! just a thought....

  • mukearch on August 11, 2009, 10:00 GMT

    hello frnds, I think flintoff should have played in the 4 th test . A player of his capability is an asset to a team , player of his quality brings an extra confidence in the side as the team looks much balanced as he is a class of player who can bowl 50 overs for his side and can go and bat for for the whole day as we saw in the 3 rd test he made a fabulous 74 off 78 balls . And i think that he should play the final test of his carrear and help his team regain the ashes and end his carrear in a winning note just like Mcgrath and warne and martyn ended their carrear in 2007 on a high note. i being a freddy fan wish him good luck for the forthcoming test and may England regain ashes after they lost it to aussies in australia.

  • whits106 on August 11, 2009, 8:29 GMT

    jazman84 - England's batting has had one terrible game and you're saying they're too frail and shouldn't be playing. Why wasn't there such a big thing about this before the 4th test? Because they were winning. Similar to Australia's bowling, to be honest, expect for Hilfy, has been below average up untill the last test, and Huss should be dropped he's barely done a thing over the last 18 months.

    Seriously, leave the side as is (Bring in AF and KP if they're fit). They had one bad game. If anything i'd drop JA for MP. I think the middle order justneeds a re shuffle. RB isn't a number 3 batsman. He has talent and class, his technique and temperment for a No. 3 leave alot to be desired. Drop him to 5, IB to 3 and PC to 4.

  • jazman84 on August 11, 2009, 5:16 GMT

    Is KP any chance? if not. Australia will win this. England's Middle order is to frail. I thought Collingwood might step up, but it remains to be seen. I'd like to see Ramprakash recalled though. Add some solidarity to the lineup. His body is standing the test of time. If only Freddie and Simon Jones had his longevity...

  • TheDoctor394 on August 10, 2009, 21:18 GMT

    While I don't deny the quality of Andrew Flintoff, the fact remains that, since 2005, statistics show that England are more likely to win with him out of the side, than in it (I think I'm right in saying that, before this Ashes series, since 2005, England had won 3 matches and lost 13 with him in the side, and won 12 and lost 2 with him out of it). Admittedly, most of those victories without him have been against the likes of New Zealand and the West Indies, but both he and Peterson were in the side that was rolled for 51 in the Caribbean earlier in the year. I'm not convinced that those two players, outstanding as they are, are as crucial to England's fortunes as people are making them out to be.

  • Pietro117 on August 10, 2009, 20:08 GMT

    Freddie has to play for three reasons: he's essential to the balance of the side - Broad's just not a reliable enough allrounder yet; he inspires the side - despite what the stats may say, the team is just play better with him than without; and finally, it may be sentimental, but he can't retire from Test cricket without a final send-off. The thousands of people whom he has turned into cricket lovers deserve the opportunity to say goodbye and give him the send-off he deserves

  • Fourman on August 10, 2009, 19:21 GMT

    With the fragile batting line-up that England had which showed its true colors in the 4th test, even Flintoff being 100% fit would not have been able to save it whatsoever. England has to live without Flintoff after the Ashes, so why not prepare themselves for it?

  • Nampally on August 10, 2009, 18:47 GMT

    It is unfortunate that each country has one or 2 outstanding players who can turn the game around thru' sheer excellence & their will to win. Flintoff & K.Pieterson are the ones for England team. Without these 2 in the side, the nucleas of the team is gone. If the English openers fail, the rest of the batting crumbles as in the first innings at Headingly.England is trying to win the series against a very strong & determined Aussie team which could have been 2-1 up by now but for poor form of bowlers in the first test. England middle order batting is not up to the test level and they do not have any other players better than those in the side.Ramp was available all these years but was ignored despite his great form.Vaughan was ignored & forced to retire. Go for younger players -Trott or Key. It will be tough for England to win even with Flintoff & KP in the side agaist a well balanced Aussie team. If Australian bowlers find form, it is a strong & unbeatable team. Good Luck to both.

  • auggie on August 10, 2009, 17:50 GMT

    The Ashes are not ordinary Test matches. Its wartime.Time for English hero's to step up and be counted. Lord Nelson went about it with one eye! A chap called the Nawab of Pataudi batted and captained with one eye too. W.G. Grace would have played with even just one leg. I agree with Justin Langer about Strauss's nanny approach. Flintoff's no Pussy. He is the real deal and can inspire and is the only man apart from KP whom this ordinary Aussie team fear...and he WANTs to play game leg or not. So let him! As Sampdoria says Strauss & Co. talk about 5 days but lasted just 3!

  • CSKfan on August 10, 2009, 16:28 GMT

    Even a half fit Flintoff is better than most in the English eleven. Justin Langer's dossier exactly goes to say that English players are flat. They wait for things to happen. Only Freddie has the firepower and fighting instincts. He should be in the side if England were to give themselves a decent chance at the urn. Else it goes the Australia's way and England are going to wait another 2 years to face an Australian side which would have emerged stronger by then.

  • samudralakiku on August 10, 2009, 14:21 GMT

    I agree with Sampdoria. A team that is favored to win Ashes is almost dependent on one person (who is retiring after this series) to win them the Ashes. This is completely ridiculus. No one knows what happens to England team after freddie retires. God bless them.

  • drinks.break on August 10, 2009, 13:35 GMT

    Flintoff's (or any all rounder's) ability to win matches is hugely overrated. Even a great all rounder will make a significant, winning contribution only once per series at most. In fact, the strongest teams of the last 3+ decades haven't needed an all rounder at all. In the professional era, specialists are much more consistently effective. England doesn't need Flintoff for inspiration, they need him as a bowler who can guarantee 20 overs a day (and then they need 6 proper batsmen beside him). If he can't bowl 20 overs, he shouldn't be picked.

  • Oldmanmartin on August 10, 2009, 13:06 GMT

    Flintoff is retiring from Test cricket imminently because his knees and ankles can't take it. Flower and Strauss wouldn't have dropped him if they thought he was half-way fit. It was a big morale blow, but what finally caused England's collective nervous breakdown was Prior's back spasms coming after Flintoff's replacement by a bowler rather than a batsman. Not that Trott would probably have contributed much.

  • Howzzat07 on August 10, 2009, 12:35 GMT

    Here's the real story. Andrew Flintoff wasn't selected because of an iffy knee. He wasn't selected so Strauss and England will have a built-in reason for when they lose the Ashes at Kensington. England sports have always been about blaming something else for the downfall and this is a perfect excuse. "Oh we couldn't win because Freddie's knee was wonky and KP's achilles put him out."

  • Sampdoria on August 10, 2009, 12:03 GMT

    Time for Strauss and Flower to take their heads out of their nether regions and stop with the politics. They didn't think Freddie would last 5 days...except Strauss and company didn't even last 3!

    Make or break, play Flintoff.

  • Sanjiyan on August 10, 2009, 11:49 GMT

    It's sad that a national team is so dependant on one player. Granted Flintoff is a good cricketer in a team of average ones, I think he is not the answer to englands problems..

    In a team of 4 bowlers(5 including the spinner) you will need your 4 frontline bowlers to do about 80 overs in a day. if one isnt up to scratch the others pick up the slack. Anderson is injured and if flinty cant bowl 15 plus overs in a day..no matter how much of a positive presence he has in the team hes just dead weight.

  • Ozcricketwriter on August 10, 2009, 11:38 GMT

    I agree with not picking Flintoff for the 4th test, since he wasn't fully fit. Australia hasn't played Lee, and also delayed playing Watson and Stuart Clark due to fitness concerns (presumably). Just the same, with Bopara and Bell doing so badly, I think that Flintoff should come in as a batsman for the 5th test, alongside Trott, to replace Bell and Bopara. They also should take Harmison out and play Panesar in his place. That is a team that is capable of winning the 5th and final test for England.

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  • Ozcricketwriter on August 10, 2009, 11:38 GMT

    I agree with not picking Flintoff for the 4th test, since he wasn't fully fit. Australia hasn't played Lee, and also delayed playing Watson and Stuart Clark due to fitness concerns (presumably). Just the same, with Bopara and Bell doing so badly, I think that Flintoff should come in as a batsman for the 5th test, alongside Trott, to replace Bell and Bopara. They also should take Harmison out and play Panesar in his place. That is a team that is capable of winning the 5th and final test for England.

  • Sanjiyan on August 10, 2009, 11:49 GMT

    It's sad that a national team is so dependant on one player. Granted Flintoff is a good cricketer in a team of average ones, I think he is not the answer to englands problems..

    In a team of 4 bowlers(5 including the spinner) you will need your 4 frontline bowlers to do about 80 overs in a day. if one isnt up to scratch the others pick up the slack. Anderson is injured and if flinty cant bowl 15 plus overs in a day..no matter how much of a positive presence he has in the team hes just dead weight.

  • Sampdoria on August 10, 2009, 12:03 GMT

    Time for Strauss and Flower to take their heads out of their nether regions and stop with the politics. They didn't think Freddie would last 5 days...except Strauss and company didn't even last 3!

    Make or break, play Flintoff.

  • Howzzat07 on August 10, 2009, 12:35 GMT

    Here's the real story. Andrew Flintoff wasn't selected because of an iffy knee. He wasn't selected so Strauss and England will have a built-in reason for when they lose the Ashes at Kensington. England sports have always been about blaming something else for the downfall and this is a perfect excuse. "Oh we couldn't win because Freddie's knee was wonky and KP's achilles put him out."

  • Oldmanmartin on August 10, 2009, 13:06 GMT

    Flintoff is retiring from Test cricket imminently because his knees and ankles can't take it. Flower and Strauss wouldn't have dropped him if they thought he was half-way fit. It was a big morale blow, but what finally caused England's collective nervous breakdown was Prior's back spasms coming after Flintoff's replacement by a bowler rather than a batsman. Not that Trott would probably have contributed much.

  • drinks.break on August 10, 2009, 13:35 GMT

    Flintoff's (or any all rounder's) ability to win matches is hugely overrated. Even a great all rounder will make a significant, winning contribution only once per series at most. In fact, the strongest teams of the last 3+ decades haven't needed an all rounder at all. In the professional era, specialists are much more consistently effective. England doesn't need Flintoff for inspiration, they need him as a bowler who can guarantee 20 overs a day (and then they need 6 proper batsmen beside him). If he can't bowl 20 overs, he shouldn't be picked.

  • samudralakiku on August 10, 2009, 14:21 GMT

    I agree with Sampdoria. A team that is favored to win Ashes is almost dependent on one person (who is retiring after this series) to win them the Ashes. This is completely ridiculus. No one knows what happens to England team after freddie retires. God bless them.

  • CSKfan on August 10, 2009, 16:28 GMT

    Even a half fit Flintoff is better than most in the English eleven. Justin Langer's dossier exactly goes to say that English players are flat. They wait for things to happen. Only Freddie has the firepower and fighting instincts. He should be in the side if England were to give themselves a decent chance at the urn. Else it goes the Australia's way and England are going to wait another 2 years to face an Australian side which would have emerged stronger by then.

  • auggie on August 10, 2009, 17:50 GMT

    The Ashes are not ordinary Test matches. Its wartime.Time for English hero's to step up and be counted. Lord Nelson went about it with one eye! A chap called the Nawab of Pataudi batted and captained with one eye too. W.G. Grace would have played with even just one leg. I agree with Justin Langer about Strauss's nanny approach. Flintoff's no Pussy. He is the real deal and can inspire and is the only man apart from KP whom this ordinary Aussie team fear...and he WANTs to play game leg or not. So let him! As Sampdoria says Strauss & Co. talk about 5 days but lasted just 3!

  • Nampally on August 10, 2009, 18:47 GMT

    It is unfortunate that each country has one or 2 outstanding players who can turn the game around thru' sheer excellence & their will to win. Flintoff & K.Pieterson are the ones for England team. Without these 2 in the side, the nucleas of the team is gone. If the English openers fail, the rest of the batting crumbles as in the first innings at Headingly.England is trying to win the series against a very strong & determined Aussie team which could have been 2-1 up by now but for poor form of bowlers in the first test. England middle order batting is not up to the test level and they do not have any other players better than those in the side.Ramp was available all these years but was ignored despite his great form.Vaughan was ignored & forced to retire. Go for younger players -Trott or Key. It will be tough for England to win even with Flintoff & KP in the side agaist a well balanced Aussie team. If Australian bowlers find form, it is a strong & unbeatable team. Good Luck to both.