The England & Wales Cricket Board are confident Andrew Flintoff will be available for the Ashes finale at The Oval following a positive diagnosis from his knee specialist, Andy Williams. With England facing a must-win encounter at The Oval next week following their humiliating defeat in Leeds, a return to match fitness for Flintoff - in what would be his final Test match appearance before retirement - looms as a massive boost to their prospects of regaining the Ashes.
"The advice received was that the swelling in his knee has significantly eased following the decision by the England management team to rest him from the last Test Match and that subject to further rest and intensive treatment, he will be available for selection for the 5th npower Ashes Test at The Brit Oval," the ECB said in a statement
The assessment tallies with Flintoff's own take on events, because he himself believed he could have taken part in the Headingley debacle. In his absence, England lost by an innings and 80 runs inside two-and-a-half days, but Flintoff later claimed that his participation was vetoed by the captain Andrew Strauss and the coach, Andy Flower. "He told them that he was fit enough to get through," his agent, Chubby Chandler, told The Times, "but they didn't want him."
News of Flintoff's return to fitness will buoy Flower, who on Sunday warned that England could not afford another repeat of Headingley. Flintoff was only informed of his omission on the eve of the match, and the official announcement was held back until an hour before the toss, disrupting team selection. "I think we'd like to know before that," he said. "I don't think we'd want to leave it very late.
"He wanted to play, he was desperate to play but he acknowledged that he wasn't fully fit and he was struggling a bit, so we couldn't play him under those circumstances," said Flower. "If the advice is that he will be fit enough to take part as an allrounder at The Oval, then we will listen to that advice and listen to Fred's information about his own body as well."
A fully fit Flintoff would be the perfect tonic for a beleaguered team, but Flower denied that his fitness battle was having a destabilising effect on the team, as they attempt to mount a comeback in the series, and seal the Ashes for only the second time in the past 20 years. "We've gone whole series waiting on his fitness, so this match is no different," he said. "I would think we'll get some good information back from the specialist, and also some information from him on how he feels, because there's a good chunk of time between now and The Oval, so we'll have a better indication."
Either way, Flower and the England think-tank are already braced for life after Flintoff, and the selection dilemmas inherent therein. "The balance of the side when you haven't got an allrounder at 6 or 7 is always the problem, and it's one we're going to have to face up to because Flintoff is retiring from Test cricket," he said. "That is a problem, because [without him] we seem light either on the batting or the bowling side. If he's not fit for The Oval, we'll have to make a decision on where we settle for our strong point."
England received further positive news on Monday, with James Anderson cleared of a serious hamstring injury. Anderson suffered a slight strain while running between the wickets in the first innings at Headingley, but is expected to play at The Oval.
"As there is no evidence of a significant tear, it is anticipated that (Anderson) will also be available for selection for next week's final Test," the ECB released stated.