England kick off their tour of India tomorrow with a three-day warm-up game at Mumbai and Andrew Flintoff says he's now better equipped to play spin than he was on his last tour here in 2001-02.
Flintoff aggregated just 26 runs in five Test innings on his previous tour and was dismissed by a spinner each time. "When I came in 2002, I had just got back into the England side. My bowling improved no end but the batting didn't quite go according to plan. I think now I've got a better knowledge of my game," he told reporters at the team hotel in Mumbai.
"I've got a basic technique and method of playing now which I trust, slightly more patient and my shot selection is a lot better than it used to be. It's by no means perfect but I feel I approach an innings or even practice a lot better. Yes, I'll be keen to score a few more runs than I did last time. Twenty six won't be too hard to beat."
Though he failed with the bat, as a bowler Flintoff matured in India. Prior to the 2002 tour, Flintoff averaged 66.42 per wicket and though he took just six wickets in three Tests in India, he conceded just 2.05 runs an over and since then, he averages 30.42. "Before I used to just run in and bowl quite negatively, just trying to bowl maidens and keep the runs down. Although I did that a little bit out here, I think in Bangalore I came in and bowled and took wickets and from there I think I kicked on as a bowler."
Citing how England had a varied and complete pace attack, Flintoff downplayed the absence of a proven spinner in their squad. "There's the swing of Hoggard, the pace, bounce and movement of Harmison. We've got Simon Jones who is able to swing the new ball and reverse the old one and then what I do. So I think on the seam front we've got most bases covered. And on the spin front, you know we'll have to wait and see, we have got two left-arm spinners and an offspinner. We've got every confidence in them as a side. And so we'll just have to see what happens over the next few weeks."
England last toured India in December when it is relatively cooler across the country but this tour coincides with the onset of the summer. "Coming from England where it is minus 2 to 38-40 degrees, it's a bit of a shock," said Flintoff. "But if you look at the side, I think most of us have played in conditions like this before. We've played in Sri Lanka, where in places like Galle and Colombo it's 40-45 degrees so after the initial shock you kind of get used to it. We have been training now for five to six weeks, getting ready for the tough conditions ahead of us. So it might be uncomfortable but I don't see it as a major problem."
England lost Andrew Strauss for the third Test in Pakistan in December 2005 because his wife was giving birth and they could face a similar situation with Flintoff in India. "My wife is four weeks away from giving birth again. It's something I intend to be home for. But as I said before, with Holly, she was a month early so there is no plan at this stage. It could happen anytime. If it is halfway through the first Test match there is not a great deal I can do. I am not making any major plans at this stage. I'm going to see what happens."
England take on the CCI President's XI tomorrow and will return to Mumbai for the final Test against India. The city will remember Flintoff for his shirt-waving celebration after his three-wicket burst in the final ODI helped England level the series. "It's an amazing place to play. It was a one-day game, the last of six. I think I had a ten-second moment of madness. Coming back out here is great. Playing in front of 70000 people in a ODI was a great thrill. It's a great place to be. It's a great place to play cricket."
George Binoy is editorial assistant of Cricinfo