India v England, 1st ODI, Delhi March 27, 2006

Flintoff backs England against Indian juggernaut

Munaf Patel might not make his ODI debut in Delhi because of a bruised heel © Getty Images

It must be an exciting time to be Andrew Flintoff. Around a month ago he was handed the captaincy; last week he inspired his bunch of boys to a most unlikely series-levelling win; few days back he flew back home and savoured the moment with his newly-born son, who he "hadn't seen for a while, in fact never". Now he's back, for the first of the seven-match one-day series, to the same venue where, in January 2002, he was "shot".

England's last game at the Feroz Shah Kotla was a cliffhanger, one where they sneaked home by two runs. The reason why the game is remembered, though, is because of Flintoff's startling remarks in his book, Being Freddie: "I felt something hit me and, looking down, saw pellets on the ground. You expect to have plastic bottles thrown at you when you are playing on the subcontinent, but you don't expect to be shot ... I think I should have made more of a stand because I wasn't there to be shot at."

He was shot again today, in fact several hundred times. This time it was by an army of over-enthusiastic photographers, trying to get as many pictures of him and Dravid unveiling the TVS Cup. He couldn't control smirking at the passion on show, as the photographers nudged, shoved and howled. Later, sporting a refreshingly relaxed air, he settled down to address the press and said he wasn't going to break his head over crowd troubles - "We have other things to worry about than think of what happened four years ago" - and hoped his side would show the same ability to scrap against the odds - "What English cricket is all about".

Last Saturday, as Flintoff was back home "feeding the baby", Matt Prior and Ian Bell warmed themselves up with fine half-centuries in the practice game at Jaipur. Both could find a place in the starting XI tomorrow but it would be the explosive skills of Kevin Pietersen and Flintoff - "impact players," as Dravid called them - that could win the day.

Statistically, though, England are up against huge odds. Their last overseas one-day series win, if one excludes Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, came way back in December 1997, when Adam Hollioke led a group of tyros to victory in Sharjah. India, on the other hand, are on a red-hot one-day streak, with thumping victories over Sri Lanka and Pakistan intercepted by a drawn rubber against South Africa. They have hunted down targets like panthers on a prowl, 13 successful run-chases in a row , and possess a flexibility that serves them in a crisis.

Munaf Patel's bruised heel during practice may rule him out of the game but India now have a medium-pace pool to pick from. Sreesanth's skid, Ajit Agarkar's nip and Rudra Pratap Singh's discomforting lift blended beautifully in Pakistan. Vitally, they were backed up by innovative captaincy and an off-side cordon - Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif and Suresh Raina - that resembled a gymnastic crew. Something happens to India when they play one-dayers these days. It will take a mighty effort to stop this juggernaut. But again, Flintoff may well turn out to be that superhuman force.

India (probable) 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Gautam Gambhir, 3 Rahul Dravid (capt), 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 Mohammad Kaif, 6 Suresh Raina, 7 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), 8 Irfan Pathan, 9 Ajit Agarkar, 10 Harbhajan Singh, 11 Sreesanth

England (probable) 1 Matt Prior, 2 Ian Bell, 3 Andrew Strauss, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Andrew Flintoff, 6 Paul Collingwood, 7 Geraint Jones (wk), 8 Ian Blackwell, 9 Liam Plunkett, 10 Kabir Ali, 11 James Anderson.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo