England v South Africa, 2nd npower Test, Headingley July 17, 2008

Flintoff returns ... but that's the easy bit


Andrew Flintoff has ended Geoff Miller's run of six unchanged sides © Getty Images
 
After months of having it easy, England's selectors might need a lie-down once they have finalised the eleven for Headingley. Andrew Flintoff returns, but that's the simple decision. He will bat at No. 7 - an admission that his status as a world-class allrounder has slipped in absentia - which means Tim Ambrose must bat as high as No. 6 if England play five bowlers. However, at the moment the identity of those bowlers remains a mystery.

Chris Tremlett and, most surprisingly, Nottinghamshire's Darren Pattinson have been given late call-ups as cover for Ryan Sidebottom and James Anderson, both of whom have back problems. Pattinson, named in England's 30-man Champions Trophy squad, has leapfrogged the likes of Steve Harmison, Matthew Hoggard - on his home ground - and Simon Jones following an impressive season for Nottinghamshire. For Hoggard, this slight could be the final nail in his Test career.

But this is just the latest twist in Pattinson's story. He was born in Grimsby before emigrating to Australia, where he didn't make his first-class debut until 2006-07 after plying his trade as a roofer. He is a hit-the-deck swing bowler and it's the ability to swing the ball which has caught the selectors' eye. His call-up harks back to the days of selecting specialist swing bowlers for this venue. If Anderson and Sidebottom - himself a 'Headingley selection' last year - both miss out, England lack lateral movement in their attack so Pattinson could be one cloudy morning away from a debut.

The irony is that one of the guaranteed bowlers is Flintoff, who hasn't played a Test for 18 months, and it is clear it's with the ball that he is valued higher. During his absence the question has often been asked whether he can recapture the status of world-class allrounder that was bestowed on him during the peak of his powers in 2004 and 2005. The answer from the England camp, in the short-term at least, appears to be no.

"I've always seen him more as a No. 7," said Vaughan at a damp Headingley, where both sides were restricted to indoor training. "His style of play is suited to that position, he is very attacking, and given the chance he can take the game away from the opposition in that position as well. He's happy there and feels very comfortable there, it takes a little bit of pressure off him and hopefully he can go and express himself.

"We see him as having a long-term future in the team, not that we don't see Ambrose having a long-term future, but Freddie at No. 7 is a perfect position for his style of batting. At this stage No. 6 would be quite high up and the style you are asked to play there is different. We want him to be relaxed."

The move is significant not only because Flintoff himself has always been adamant that he is a batsman who bowls, but also because of the knock-on effects to the line-up. Ambrose had a dire one-day series, managing 10 runs in five innings, and began this series with 4 at Lord's. Vaughan, though, who will lead England for the fiftieth time on his home ground, is confident his wicketkeeper can cope with any promotion.

"If that's the decision we are very confident he can go and make a score. Sometimes that is just what you need, a confidence boost of being pushed up the order. Only two innings ago he got a really good [innings] against New Zealand. He seems to be hitting the ball well. He didn't have a great one-day series which is why people are talking about him, but I think he looks very comfortable in the one-day team."

All of this does spell bad news for Paul Collingwood, whose run of 33 consecutive Tests - dating back to Lahore 2005 - looks set to end. He has pulled England out of many holes, but it is hard to find a justification for keeping him in the eleven. His final chance would be if England opt to use Flintoff as one of four bowlers, but the concerns over Sidebottom and Anderson means extra resources will be needed.

 
 
Ryan's had these stiff backs before and come through and I really hope he does this time. The way that he swings the ball, he is a key bowler for us and if he isn't right he'll be a big loss for us- Michael Vaughan waits on the fitness of Ryan Sidebottom
 

Sidebottom is the greater worry and his absence would be as big a blow for England as Flintoff's return is a boost. It was here, last year against West Indies, that he returned to Test cricket with eight wickets against West Indies and has since established himself as the main man in the attack. "He's an old pro and comes from the old school," said Vaughan. "He's had these stiff backs before and come through and I really hope he does this time. The way that he swings the ball, he is a key bowler for us and if he isn't right he'll be a big loss for us.

"He still bowls very well at 80, 81mph. But in his own mind, he wants to be back at 83, 84mph because he gets that snappy swing, that late swing. That's when Ryan is at his best but he needs to be very confident in his own body to be able to do that. He'll make that decision in the morning and I hope as a captain he comes through because he's been a revelation in the last year."

For Graeme Smith this is all a pleasant role-reversal, because leading into Lord's all the attention was on his team. Flintoff has taken the heat away and allowed the South Africans a relaxed few days following their three-day escape act in London. "We've been in good spirits throughout, we were obviously disappointed with how we played for the first three days at Lord's, but to still get something out of it was a positive," said Smith. "The nice thing is knowing we can achieve those levels that we want."

The bowlers struggled with the quirky conditions at Lord's, and Headingley offers similar challenges with a slope from one end of the ground to the other. South Africa spent a long time practising on Thursday, but the rain meant Smith's attack wasn't given another early look at conditions. "We would have loved to have another session today," said Smith. "We put in quite a lengthy stint yesterday and have had a few little discussions on where we want to improve. Hopefully we can execute things better."

Like England, they will wait on their final eleven until just before the toss and Smith said he "would leave his options open" regarding the make-up of their attack. Unlike England, their procrastinations are more out of choice.

Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer at Cricinfo

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