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Australia fear firepower of Flintoff

England's No 6 is already regarded with great respect by all opponents and his growing status has been reflected by his selection in the Rest of the World squads to face the world champions later this year.

But Flintoff is yet to face Australia in a Test series - he was injured for the last tour Down Under - and Brad Hodge, a team-mate of Flintoff's at Lancashire this season before joining up with Australia's squad, believes the all-rounder can make a major impact.

"I've never seen a guy hit a cricket ball as hard as Freddie does," Hodge said. "If you had to compare him with anyone I think you should look at Adam Gilchrist because they are both up there as the most exciting players in world cricket at the moment.

"The way Freddie hits the ball and the way he plays cricket show he's a great talent. From what I've seen of him at Old Trafford he looks like a thoroughbred racehorse getting ready for a big race at Ascot - he's been doing his training and working hard and looks like he's ready to explode this year in the Ashes."

Hodge's view is backed up by Stuart Law, another Australian in Lancashire's ranks, who believes Flintoff will rise to the challenge of facing the best team in the world. Law claims Flintoff's inexperience - he has faced them in just three one-day matches prior to this summer - can be of help.

"Australia are the best team in the world and if you've never faced them before it can come as a bit of a shock to realise just how good they are," Law said. "People can talk you through what might happen but you've no real idea of how it will pan out, but Freddie is the sort who loves a challenge and rises to it and if the Aussies give him a bit of a jolt it will only bring out the best in him.

"He seems to rise to every occasion and when he walks out on to the field you get the feeling he is getting better and better," Law added.

For all Law's confidence in Flintoff, though, he is still backing Australia to win the Ashes. "You don't see Australia having a weak area," he said. "I just can't see anyone toppling Australia, but if England can get their big guns firing maybe they can put them under more pressure than anyone else."