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

The Flintoff conundrum


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

  • David 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.

  • David 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!

  • Arthur 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.

  • Les 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.

  • mat on August 11, 2009, 10:30 GMT

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

  • mukesh 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.

  • Ben 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.

  • Jared 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...

  • Keith 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.

  • Peter 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

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