India v England, 1st Test, Nagpur February 27, 2006

Flintoff ready for his latest challenge

Andrew Flintoff has plenty to think about over the next few days © Getty Images
No-one can be sure anymore with the way things are going, but for the moment it appears that Andrew Flintoff - Fred, the lad of lads - will in another 36 hours become the seventy-sixth Test captain of England, and, discounting Alec Stewart, the first allrounder to hold the position since you-know-who. "I'm looking forward to walking out in front of 10 lads on Wednesday, all of us fighting for the England side, doing everything I can to help them perform," he declared in what was the verbal equivalent of fist thumping heart, his signature move in the glory of a summer that grows ever more distant.

He also conceded that he might just get his choice of ends to bowl from, though "there isn't a great deal of wind here anyway is there?" On the flip side he will no longer return home for the birth of his second child as he had planned to do - an indication perhaps that neither Michael Vaughan nor Marcus Trescothick will play any part in the series.

There is rarely a perfect time for it, but Flintoff's initiation to captaincy could barely have come in more challenging circumstances. Leave aside turn and heat and Dhoni and Sehwag, Flintoff's biggest ask is to make an XI. It is doubtful if Sky, having been bled over the broadcasting rights, will feel benevolent enough to release Nasser Hussain and Michael Atherton.

"There have been injuries, there's been illnesses and that's not been ideal. But it's an opportunity for the team to show what we can do. When the lads walk out there on Wednesday I'm sure we'll be looking forward to the challenge of playing against India. I think a lot of things have happened so far, as soon as you walk over the white line, it'll be forgotten. We'll be going out there to play cricket. We will be a 100 per cent prepared to play a Test match against India."

Having never led the A team on tour or Lancashire for more than the occasional match, Flintoff's natural feel for the game will be more critically tested than ever before. By his own recollection: "The first time I did it [captain] was for the Lancashire Under-11s. Then I did England Under-19s, and a few games for Lancashire, both first-class and one-dayers. I think I've only done it for England briefly the other day [at Baroda] in the second innings when they were chasing down 58, and I captained a tour match in Sri Lanka."

"It's something I'm looking forward to, to be honest. I'm always involved in the game, batting, bowling, fielding at slip, so this is just one more thing I'm looking forward to doing. You know the workload I have, it's pretty tough anyway - but the one thing is that I'm probably in control of my destiny now. It's not something I'm worried about."

Still, it may be relevant to visit Vaughan's observations on the subject in his book, Calling the Shots. "He bats, bowls and fields - I'm not so sure giving him the extra responsibility and all the other jobs that come with captaincy would be good for him. The workload would be overwhelming. He'd have to practise his batting, bowling and then half an hour in the slips and then think about the captaincy. That would be very tough."

"He likes his fun and games," Vaughan had added, "and so do I - but at the right time. He couldn't act as he's acting now and be captain."

How will Flintoff seek to put his imprint on a side led vibrantly for close to three years by Vaughan? What kind of captain will he be?

"A good one I hope! In the dressing room the lads know their job. Each individual knows what he's doing. Everyone's pointing in the right direction, the same direction. I've just got to be myself. I'm just going to change the field around a little more!"

"It is Michael's team. Michael's someone that not just myself but the rest of the lads like playing under. I've just got to try and carry that on for a brief time, the enthusiasm and the fun that he puts into it and the determination and the courage that the side have. All I know is that when I walk out Wednesday and have ten lads behind me, I know they will give me the same respect, the same effort, the same energy as what they do for Michael. As for putting a stamp, I'm not in the job long enough. I'm just going to try and continue the great job that Michael does."

For the archives, the first man to shake hands was Shaun Udal, within earshot when Flintoff was officially given the news. The moment came towards the end of the practice session in the stinging dry heat of Nagpur this afternoon. Just as well for the late appointment. Captaincy is a wearying business, not least the lead-ups. An early introduction to the nature of the beast, or the bird in this case, came when he was asked about the flu-free chicken prepared by the hotel kitchen for the team.

"Chicken is chicken," he mused. "But to be honest with you, I've got a few mo' things on me plate than chicken."

Rahul Bhattacharya is contributing editor of Cricinfo Magazine and author of Pundits from Pakistan