India possibly the best team - Flintoff
India's recent performances against Australia have impressed Andrew Flintoff enough to call them "possibly the best team in the world at the moment". Despite the retirement of Anil Kumble and Sourav Ganguly, Flintoff said it was going to be tough to overcome India at home.
"The big test for us is adapting to the conditions we are going to play in," Flintoff said in Mumbai. But he felt England were capable of winning their first Test series in India since 1984.
"I thought we had a good chance last time. But one bad hour in Mohali cost us the Test match. We would like to correct that this time," Flintoff said.
England have been a force to reckon with over the last year, with home and away Test wins against New Zealand, their fightback in Sri Lanka where they bounced back to win the ODIs 3-2 and their 4-0 one-day rout of South Africa in the this summer.
Flintoff returned to international cricket after an 18-month hiatus, having recovered from his fourth ankle injury. Even though he failed to transform England's fortunes in the Test series against South Africa, which they lost 2-1, Flintoff left an indelible stamp by winning the Man-of-the-Series award in the ODI whitewash.
"The big thing was to put the England shirt back on. Each time you have it on you want it back on time and time again. It is a big incentive to get back to full fitness and get back into the team," Flintoff said.
His ability to inspire his team-mates was evident during England's last tour of India, in 2006, when the visitors rallied to draw the Test series 1-1 with a brilliant victory in the third Test in Mumbai. However, they lost the ODIs 5-1. He was appointed the captain mid-way into the tour after Michael Vaughan's knee injury forced him to return home.
Flintoff felt he was performing and enjoying himself because of the lack of responsibilities, something that was proving to be a burden when he was the captain. "I'm more comfortable now. I have had a go at captaincy. Batting and bowling and captaincy turned out a bit too much." Now his role is to help out the younger players.
England play the first of the two practice games on Sunday, against a second-string Mumbai XI, at the Brabourne Stadium, which will host a Test after 35 years when England and India meet for the Jubilee Test in December. Flintoff was happy to have had prior experience at the ground. "I played there for the Lions when we toured in March," he said. "It's a nice stadium."
India have rested Sachin Tendulkar from the first three ODIs but Flintoff did not feel his absence would give England an advantage. "Not at all. It is a shame Sachin will not be there for the first three ODIs. In a strange way I enjoy playing against him. He is the greatest I have ever bowled to. You want to play against people like that. You want to test yourself."
With the series still a week away Flintoff was relaxed and even joked with the media. On the topic of Ganguly, a fierce competitor and former team-mate at Lancashire, Flintoff said he was disappointed when the former Indian captain missed out on a century in his farewell Test in Nagpur. Would he miss him? "Not on these wickets," Flintoff chuckled.
Both Ganguly and Flintoff have celebrated victories by taking their shirts off - Flintoff in India in 2001 and Ganguly in England the following year - but Flintoff wasn't sure if he would repeat the act in this series. "We will have to find some abs in the next few weeks," he said.
He was not so forthcoming - or flippant - on the subject of IPL. Asked if he believed the players would try to make a reputation on tour in India, which has become the game's economic hub, Flintoff was dismissive. "If you think about distractions like the IPL, endorsements, media attention and stuff, you are going to struggle."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo