Anderson quick to fill Flintoff's big boots

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The Independent Online

Andrew Flintoff's persistent ankle injury will have been the cause of much discussion when England's selectors met last night in Birmingham to pick their squad for Thursday's first Test against the West Indies. During the recent NatWest one-day series England found it impossible to replace the Lancashire all-rounder and the prospect of him being unable to bowl for five days at Lord's is sure to have caused further angst.

Andrew Flintoff's persistent ankle injury will have been the cause of much discussion when England's selectors met last night in Birmingham to pick their squad for Thursday's first Test against the West Indies. During the recent NatWest one-day series England found it impossible to replace the Lancashire all-rounder and the prospect of him being unable to bowl for five days at Lord's is sure to have caused further angst.

Flintoff's formidable form with the bat will ensure he is named in the squad tomorrow, even though the 26-year-old would not be fit enough to bowl in a Test should it start today. Since doctors found a bone spur growth close to the Achilles tendon on his left foot, Flintoff has sent down just 17 deliveries. These were bowled for Lancashire in Wednesday's Twenty20 match against Yorkshire at Headingley, but his absence from the attack on Thursday suggests all is not well.

Mark Butcher is England's only other fitness worry. The Surrey opener strained his left thigh while playing a one-day game for his county, but the selectors expect their No 3 to have recovered in time. Initially England wanted Butcher to prove his fitness by playing for Surrey in tomorrow's Totesport League match at Canterbury, but the selectors are now happy for him to do so when he meets up with the squad at Lord's on Tuesday.

Selecting 13 names for this Test is a relatively simple task but Flintoff's fitness will ultimately affect which 11 walk out on Thursday morning. Flintoff is such an influential cricketer that England will play him even if he cannot bowl. And quite right too: "Freddie" has averaged over 50 with the bat for England in three of their last four series. Robert Key can expect to be named in the squad as cover, but Butcher's fitness is the only avenue through which he may get a chance.

It is Flintoff's inability to bowl which messes up England's plans. Michael Vaughan would be hoping to field the same attack - Stephen Harmison, Matthew Hoggard, Simon Jones, Ashley Giles and Flintoff - which wreaked havoc in the Caribbean earlier this year, but without his star all-rounder's bowling he will have to adapt.

England will be reluctant to drop a batsman for a fifth bowler and the top seven will remain the same as that which defeated New Zealand at Trent Bridge five weeks ago.

The challenge for the selectors is picking the correct four bowlers for the first Test. When situations like this arise, overhead conditions need to be taken into consideration before decisions are made.

Giles had a wonderful Nottingham Test. Warwickshire's left-arm spinner took 6 for 116 and scored 81 unbeaten runs in the match, but he may have to make way for a fourth seamer should the weather in London remain inclement.

If Giles were omitted, James Anderson would be his likely replacement. The Lancashire seamer sat, frustrated, in the stands while England walloped the West Indies 3-0 in March and April. The 21-year-old was also overlooked when Jones picked up an injury in the first Test of the summer. In the remaining two matches Martin Saggers played, but the Kent swing-bowler only picked up two wickets.

It is likely that Anderson will play this time, even if England decide to pick Giles as part of a four-man attack. Jones has played very little cricket since he was given the all-clear and the overs he has bowled have not been particularly impressive. The Welshman conceded more than four runs an over playing for the MCC against the West Indians at Arundel this week.

The nature of Jones' bowling - fast and raw - means there is always the chance that he will leak too many runs, but with Flintoff and Harmison in the side it is a risk worth taking. But lose one of the bankers and Jones becomes an option the selectors may well choose to save for later in the series.

There was better news at the other end in Sussex. A fortnight ago there were fears that a knee injury would keep Hoggard out of the first Test but, after taking 8 for 90 against Brian Lara's side, the Yorkshireman looks ready for action.

During the next four Test matches it is important that England's other fast bowlers give Harmison quality support. The Durham paceman has been the difference between England and their opponents in the last two series, but Vaughan cannot keep on using him as he is.

Against New Zealand Harmison averaged 53 overs per Test, a workload that will break his body before too long. Vaughan has been forced to throw the ball his way so often because England's other seamers have not looked like winning the game for their side.

England's Test players will have enjoyed the one-day section of the season, but they must adapt quickly to the greater demands of five-day cricket. Vaughan, Marcus Trescothick, Andrew Strauss, Flintoff and Geraint Jones have not had a first-class innings since the last Test against New Zealand. The West Indians will have had four.

Four to the fore the men who missed the one-day debacle

Mark Butcher England's No 3 learned his trade as an opener for Surrey and this has prepared him well for his role in the national side. Offers calmness and class to England's batting and since scoring 173 not out against Australia in 2000 he has scored 2,741 runs at an average of 42.83.

Graham Thorpe India's VVS Laxman may be the best No 5 in Test cricket but Thorpe is not far behind. It is comforting for England to see the Surrey left-hander walk to the crease. He brings the same qualities to the team as Butcher and since sorting out his private life he has scored 954 runs at 59.63.

Simon Jones But for a foot injury the Glamorgan paceman would have played in the NatWest series. Injuries are preventing the 25-year-old from developing as quickly as England want and he remains raw, but talented. Can be expensive but has real pace, which England prize.

Matthew Hoggard This is an important series for the Yorkshire seamer, who needs to offer greater consistency and support for Stephen Harmison. Against New Zealand his nine wickets cost 43 runs each and a similar performance over the coming weeks would see his place put under real pressure.

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