Flintoff ready to play by ear
Andrew Flintoff could have done with a fly-swatter while addressing the media on the eve of England's knock-out game against Australia. As he answered a variety of questions - ranging from the Ashes to his shirt-waving spectacle at Mumbai in 2002 and the Diwali fireworks expected tomorrow - Flintoff couldn't but swing his arms, trying to keep out the pests that swarmed around him.
During the game tomorrow, especially after sunset, he might feel like blocking his nose and stuffing his ears. The flies may keep away but the explosive fire-crackers - a part and parcel of Diwali, the festival of lights - is likely to pose a share of problems. Locals estimate that the pollution levels (both air and noise) increase by 200% on Diwali day. Both captains warned that there's still a while to go before the event but there'll be plenty of ashes around the city tomorrow.
The cloud of smoke that's likely to envelope the city might well affect the dew factor, an issue that's slowly becoming one of the talking points of the tournament. Pakistan benefited from the film of dew while chasing against Sri Lanka but whether there will be dew to the same extent tomorrow, with the night skies set alight, remains the question. Added to that is the possibility of showers - Australia's practice session was slightly delayed owing to early-morning rain. Modern cricket teams are accompanied by a sizeable support staff but it's high time someone appointed a permanent meteorologist.
"Some days the dew's been a factor, some days it's not," said a slightly bemused Flintoff when asked about how he went about practicing for the dew. "I don't think there's any hard and fast way to find out when it's going to come down. In the game we played against India, I don't think the dew came down a great deal. It's something we've to look at on the day, after seeing overhead conditions."
England are no doubt preparing themselves for fielding under lights, with the prospect of having to bowl and field with a soggy ball. "We had a fielding practice before the India game," said Flintoff as he continued his battle with the flies," and we're having another session under floodlights tonight. It's something we've come across before - we've played under floodlights in England and the dew plays a part in South Africa as well.
"As far as tactics go, it's pretty much the same really. A good area to bowl is a good area to bowl. You need to bowl pretty straight, that doesn't change if the dew comes in. Sometimes you get a bit more swing, or ball may seam a bit more but the areas you put the ball is pretty similar."
Irrespective of the atmospherics, England are likely to stick to the same XI that played the first game. The spinners - Michael Yardy and Jamie Dalrymple - were impressive against India while the seamers did their bit to make a meagre total into a challenging one. What England couldn't do against India, and what they can't do without tomorrow, is to raise their intensity and Flintoff underlined the importance of an aggressive approach. "Australia are a fine side and remain favourites going into it," he added. "But both sides have lost first and I don't think they'll be. We'll try and take Australia on and see what happens."
Statistics don't reveal much. The two teams have encountered each other just twice on Indian conditions: first at the famous World Cup final in 1987, when Mike Gatting reverse-swept England to their doom, and next at the Nehru Cup in 1989, when a Wayne Larkins hundred steered England home. Ultimately it will come down to the team that holds its nerve, gas-masks and ear-muffs best. It promises to be a cracker, in more ways than one.
England (likely): 1 Andrew Strauss, 2 Ian Bell, 3 Andrew Flintoff (capt), 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Paul Collingwood, 6 Michael Yardy, 7 Jamie Dalrymple, 8 Chris Read (wk), 9 James Anderson, 10 Sajid Mahmood, 11 Steve Harmison.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo