Flintoff recalled for Leeds Test
His recall comes as no surprise, after England endured a frustrating final day of the first Test at Lord's. After dominating the first three days, they were thwarted in their pursuit of victory by the combined efforts of Graeme Smith, Neil McKenzie and Hashim Amla, all three of whom scored centuries in a second-innings total of 393 for 3 declared.
Though England's four-prong attack toiled manfully on a flat pitch, their lack of extreme firepower ultimately cost them the chance to put South Africa under pressure, and their captain, Michael Vaughan, said that Flintoff would come straight back into the starting line-up for Headingley.
"It was always at the back of my mind to get Freddie back into the team," said Vaughan. "He just needed another game to prove to himself that his body was right. He's got through a good game at Hampshire, where he's bowled a lot of overs and made a few runs today. He's ready to come back."
Who, though, will make way for Flintoff's return? England set a world record in this game, having named an unchanged side for the sixth match in a row, and Vaughan accepted that it would not be an easy call to make. Paul Collingwood is the most likely man to make way, as Flintoff slots in as part of a five-man attack, although Ryan Sidebottom (because of his back problem) and Stuart Broad are also under threat.
"That's the question I'm going to get asked all week," said Vaughan. "Headingley's a funny ground because you have to get the conditions right and read the pitch well. Both options are still available, but we'll have to get up there and see the wicket and see what we feel are the best bowlers for that pitch."
Broad's ever-increasing prowess with the bat, however, ought to tip the scales in favour of his retention. His Test-best 76 played a vital supporting role to Ian Bell on the second day, and Vaughan was full of praise after the match. "Broadys' maturing into a really good cricketer," said Vaughan. "Hopefully he can continue to contribute as he has done, as he looks a real solid batsman and should score consistent runs for us. That's a real good sign for the team."
As for Collingwood, Vaughan seemed already to be sugaring the pill for his omission. "I think he's human like everyone else," he said. "He's very calm outwardly, but I've been in those positions before, and it hurts when you're not getting runs and you're not contributing, and when you get a decision like he did in this game, you probably think everything's against you. But he's a fighter, always has been, and he could play at Headingley and get a hundred, that's the kind of player he is. He's always fought for England, so he's a good man to have in the team, and we expect him to carry on like that."
South Africa's players were not surprised by the announcement of Flintoff's return. "I think his name was always being thrown around," said Neil McKenzie. "He's a serious player, but we don't prepare for one guy, we prepare for a side. He was a key figure in the English set-up a couple of years ago, and he's had a couple of injuries since then, but he's bowling well and we'll give him the respect he deserves."
Despite his eagerness to reintroduce Flintoff to the fold, Vaughan was keen to play down the inevitable expectation that will follow him to Headingley. "We're building him up a bit too much, and that's unfair on him," he said. "He's not a wizard, he's not going to come and sprinkle [magic] dust. He just needs to come and bowl like he can, hopefully whack it like he does, and try and get his level of performance to what it was before. Eighteen months is a long time out of the game, and it might take him a little bit of time to adjust."
Even so, the mere sight of Flintoff walking into the England dressing-room at Headingley is sure to give a lift to his team-mates. "There's a bit of X-factor about him," said Vaughan. "You know when you give him the ball he can create something, and in the past when he's gone out to bat, he's made things happen, and he has the ability to take wonderful catches. As a captain it's always nice to have that kind of player in and around the team, and I'm sure opposition teams around the world would rather play England without Freddie Flintoff than have him in the team."
England squad Michael Vaughan (capt), Tim Ambrose (wk), James Anderson, Ian Bell, Stuart Broad, Paul Collingwood, Alastair Cook, Andrew Flintoff, Monty Panesar, Kevin Pietersen, Ryan Sidebottom, Andrew Strauss.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo