Andrew Flintoff is set to be named England's captain for the Ashes today, but it should have been Andrew Strauss

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The Independent Online

Andrew Flintoff is expected to be named as England's Ashes captain when the 16-man squad for the most eagerly awaited Test series in living memory is revealed at The Oval at 3pm today. After weeks of deliberation, the selectors are ready to choose Flintoff ahead of Andrew Strauss, even though the opener led England with distinction against Pakistan this summer.

The selectors' decision is understandable, given that Flintoff is England's most influential and inspirational cricketer, but in the light of what has taken place this summer, I would have named Strauss. I have always viewed Strauss as Vaughan's long-term successor even though, with the spectre of the Ashes-winning captain still hanging over the side, I could see the benefits of Flintoff leading England in Australia.

Yet matters have changed considerably this summer. Strauss has shown himself to be an astute and popular captain, playing a leading role in England's recent success against Pakistan. Two hundreds in the Test series proved that the job was not having an adverse effect on his batting, and he has looked more assured and confident with every game in charge.

Flintoff did very little wrong in India, where he inspired the team to a memorable victory in Bombay, or during the drawn home Test series against Sri Lanka. The players clearly enjoy playing under him and he has consistently expressed his desire to captain the side. But, and it is a very big but, he is yet to prove his fitness for the tour, and he has played very little cricket this summer. There are fears that Flintoff's hectic lifestyle would not be conducive to captaining the national side, and yesterday was a typical example.

In between visits to the National Academy at Loughborough, where the England players were having medical tests, Flintoff was taken by helicopter to London and then sped up the River Thames on a speedboat for a personal appearance. Now, with the added burden of getting fit and regaining the form that allowed him to dominate the Ashes series last year, he has even more to contend with. And it is these concerns, and the fact that getting fit should take priority over preparing the side, that makes me feel that Strauss was the man for the job.

The one danger of overlooking Flintoff was that he might have taken it badly. Flintoff has done nothing in his career to suggest he would sulk, but high-profile sportsmen are not beyond getting cute over their fitness and commitment to the team when it suits. Stephen Harmison's reaction would also have been interesting. Harmison is Flintoff's best mate and he was adamant that "Fred" should get the job when I spoke to him two months ago.

These issues should not have influenced the selectors, whose job is to pick the best man. David Graveney, the chairman of selectors, has consistently pushed Flintoff's cause. When Flintoff was ruled out of the Test and one-day series against Pakistan, Graveney stated that Strauss was only a stand-in, and that the job would return to England's most popular cricketer when Flintoff returned to full fitness.

Graveney has his views but the voice of Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, would have carried a lot of weight. It is he who has to build a close working relationship with the captain, and it is widely believed that he wanted Strauss. Fletcher has never been critical of Flintoff but he has had concerns over his workload.

This leaves Geoff Miller, the third selector, who probably had the casting vote. Miller has kept his thoughts to himself, but on most major issues his views have been closer to Graveney than Fletcher, and this appears to have been the case again here.

With the captaincy sorted out, the selectors could then turn their attention to the players. The Ashes cannot be won on the day the touring squad is announced but, as England found out on their last visit to Australia four years ago, when they left Heathrow with injured players, they can almost be lost.

There is nothing that undermines the confidence and purpose of a team more than uncertainty and the England selectors have several major decisions to make over Marcus Trescothick, Ashley Giles and James Anderson.

Trescothick's position would have been the first to be debated. Prior to last week's withdrawal from next month's Champions Trophy because of a stress-related illness, Trescothick was a certainty. It would be a huge surprise if the selectors fail to pick him but his presence will not help the focus of a squad who will be wondering how their team-mate is on a daily basis rather than concentrating solely on the cricket.

The medics say that Trescothick will be OK by Australia, but I doubt if any of them have stood in front of Bay 13 in Melbourne, or The Hill in Sydney and faced the insults that come your way. Everyone hopes that he comes through unscathed but his record Down Under - 261 runs at an average of 26.1 - is pretty ordinary and I would be surprised if he finishes the 17-week tour.

The remainder of England's batting looks solid. Strauss finished the season in excellent form, while Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood all had good summers. The topic of wicketkeepers will have taken little time, with Chris Read and Geraint Jones being the two who should travel, despite the merits of the Sussex stumper Matt Prior.

The bowling, however, is complicated, and the choice of the selectors will highlight whether they have learnt lessons from four years ago. Flintoff may not have bowled since mid-July and, obviously, he must travel, but if England wish to avoid taking any further risks, they must overlook Giles and Anderson.

Giles is recovering from a hip complaint and is yet to bowl in 2006. The left-arm spinner played a pivotal role in last summer's success but, at 33, it will take him more time than is available to return to his best. Jamie Dalrymple has impressed in the one-day arena, and England should not be afraid to promote him now.

Anderson, who sustained a back injury on England's tour of India, is yet to bowl in a competitive match this summer. He was back to his best in April as a result of bowling regularly during the previous 12 months. As a bowler, he needs to bowl a lot and England's Ashes itinerary does not give him this option.

The omission of Anderson leaves four bowlers competing for three places. Sajid Mahmood is the quickest and most aggressive of the quartet and he must go, as should Liam Plunkett. This leaves Stuart Broad and Jonathan Lewis challenging for the final spot. Broad is a fine prospect who showed potential in the one-day series against Pakistan, but I do not think that he is quite ready yet.

Lewis lacks a yard or two of pace but he is an experienced bowler who pitches the ball consistently on a good length. He has shown that he can come in at short notice and bowl well, and this is what he would have to do on a tour where there is only one practice match between the five Tests.

Broad could be among a number of players positioned in Perth as cover. Vaughan, Giles, Anderson and Owais Shah could be there, too, even though their presence will only increase the chances of the tour becoming a travelling circus. It should be the job of the 16 selected to retain the Ashes.

* England name their squad today for the Champions Trophy in India next month. Possible squad: A Flintoff (capt), A J Strauss, E C Joyce, A N Cook, I R Bell, K P Pietersen, P D Collingwood, J W M Dalrymple, M H Yardy, C M W Read, S I Mahmood, J Lewis, S C J Broad, S J Harmison.

Sweet 16: Angus Fraser selects his squad to head Down Under

* MARCUS TRESCOTHICK
Record v Australia: Tests: 10, Innings: 18, Runs: 613, Average: 34.39
Record since Ashes: Tests: 15, Innings: 30, Runs: 1,013, Average: 33.76
Personal problems will dominate his first few weeks in Australia but he remains a vital member of the side.

ANDREW STRAUSS
Record v Australia: Tests: 5, Innings: 10 Runs 393, Average: 39.30
Record since Ashes: Tests: 12, Innings: 22, Runs: 881, Average: 40.05
Nothing daunts him. Scored two hundreds against Australia in 2005 and he will enjoy the bouncy pitches in Oz.

ALASTAIR COOK
Record v Australia: Yet to play
Record since Ashes: Tests: 9, Innings: 16, Runs: 761, Average: 54.35
Has looked a natural Test cricketer since his debut in India. Appears unflappable, important when facing Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath.

KEVIN PIETERSEN
Record v Australia: Tests: 5, Innings: 10 Runs 473, Average: 52.55
Record since Ashes: Tests: 13, Innings: 24, Runs: 1,124, Average: 46.83
He will love the big stage and it should bring out the best in him. When he scores runs he wins matches.

IAN BELL
Record v Australia: Tests: 5, Innings: 10, Runs: 171, Average: 17.10
Record since Ashes: Tests: 10, Innings: 19, Runs: 819, Average: 51.19
Had a poor Ashes in 2005 but was superb last summer, scoring hundreds in three consecutive Tests: against Pakistan.

PAUL COLLINGWOOD
Record v Australia: Tests: 1, Innings: 2, Runs: 17, Average: 8.50
Record since Ashes: Tests: 12, Innings: 22, Runs: 921, Average: 48.47
The sort of player Aussies love. He is a fighter who makes the most of his ability and is fully committed.

ANDREW FLINTOFF
Record v Australia: Tests: 5, Innings: 10, Runs: 402, Average: 34.39, Wickets: 24, Average: 27.29
Record since Ashes: Tests: 9, Innings: 16, Runs: 436, Average: 31.14, Wickets: 36, Average: 30.53
His performances in 2005 leave him with a lot to follow. The captaincy will motivate him and how he plays will go a long way to deciding the Ashes.

CHRIS READ
Record v Australia: Yet to play
Record since Ashes: Tests: 2, Innings: 3, Runs: 126, Average: 42.00
England's best gloveman and he showed he can bat in the two tests against Pakistan.

GERAINT JONES
Record v Australia: Tests: 5, Innings: 10, Runs: 229, Average: 25.44
Record since Ashes: Tests: 11, Innings: 18, Runs: 306, Average: 19.13
Has struggled since the Ashes but remains a favourite with Fletcher, the England coach. If Read fails with the bat, he will quickly return.

JAMIE DALRYMPLE
Yet to play Test cricket
Has impressed both on and off the field in one-day cricket this summer. He is very competitive and hard working. Will not be overawed by it all.

MONTY PANESAR
Record v Australia: Yet to play
Record since Ashes: Tests: 10, Innings: 13, Runs: 51, Average: 10.20, Wickets: 32, Average: 32.40
Like Cook, he looked a natural from his first Test in India. Bowls with control and takes wickets. He is a class act and will do well in Australia.

MATTHEW HOGGARD
Record v Australia: Tests: 8, Innings: 15, Runs: 57, Average: 4.25, Wickets: 22, Average: 38.54
Record since Ashes: Tests: 13, Innings: 20, Runs: 95, Average: 5.28, Wickets: 49, Average: 30.22
Took an early wicket in almost every Test in 2005 but struggled on his only tour of Oz. An example to rest of bowlers.

STEVE HARMISON
Record v Australia: Tests: 10, Wickets: 30, Average: 36.83
Record since Ashes: Tests: 9, Wickets: 37, Average: 30.38
On his day he is the most feared fast bowler in the world. England need those days to come around more regularly but Aussies will not be looking forward to facing him.

SAJID MAHMOOD
Record v Australia: Yet to play
Record since Ashes: Tests: 5, Wickets: 15, Average: 33.20
Has pace but is inconsistent. England are looking for him to perform the Simon Jones role on the tour. If he can, the Ashes will probably stay with England.

LIAM PLUNKETT
Record v Australia: Yet to play
Record since Ashes: Tests: 6, Wickets: 16, Average: 37.56
Shows promise, but like Mahmood he is too inconsistent. Has potential to bat at eight, but it is his bowling that will decide his future.

JONATHAN LEWIS
Record v Australia: Yet to play
Record since Ashes: Tests: 1, Innings: 2, Runs: 27, Average: 13.50, Wickets: 3, Average: 40.66
Lacks pace but swings the ball and gets it in the right area. England will know what they get with Lewis.

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