Countdown to the Ashes: Flintoff sees strength in exuberance of youth

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The Independent Online

The England captain, Andrew Flintoff, believes having a relatively inexperienced squad for the forthcoming Ashes series could work in his side's favour. With only four having featured in the dismal 2002-03 Ashes series Down Under, Flintoff feels many of the current squad are free of the mental scars previous players suffered at the hands of the Australians.

Last year's Ashes victory restored England's self-belief and the squad have since been bolstered with the youthful exuberance of Alastair Cook, Sajid Mahmood, Monty Panesar and Liam Plunkett. "A lot of the lads haven't played in Australia and I've not played a Test match in Australia apart from the Super Series last year," said Flintoff at his first press conference since landing in Australia.

"But on the other side, the lads haven't been to Australia and played in defeats before. They're not scarred by previous defeats. We're coming here open-eyed and looking forward to playing in different conditions against the best team in the world. It is a young side but every challenge that's been thrown in front of them so far they've responded well to, and I expect this winter to be no different."

Of last year's triumphant squad, Simon Jones and the captain, Michael Vaughan, have been ruled out through injury, while Flintoff and Ashley Giles are recovering from lengthy lay-offs. Yet their absences opened the door for youngsters to stake their claim for this series, which starts on 23 November. "There's competition for places in every department," Flintoff said. "That shows the strength of the squad. People have come in and performed over the past few years and out of the 16 in the squad anybody could play in that first Test."

Flintoff added that he was eager to start the action after all the build-up. "The hype surrounding it has been going on for a long time," he said. "Myself and the team are very excited to finally arrive; it's going to be huge. It's going to be a tough winter but, hopefully, one of the most enjoyable ones we could have."

Despite their memorable win last year, England are seen as outsiders with Australia playing on home soil. However, Flintoff is confident his team will be competitive. "The one thing we can do is control how we prepare going into the first Test," he said. "We've worked hard and we're going to work hard over the next few weeks."

England will stay in Sydney before travelling to Canberra to open the tour with a one-day match against a Prime Minister's XI on Friday. They then have three-day games against New South Wales and South Australia before the first Test in Brisbane.

But the Australian bowler Glenn McGrath feels his team will have the upper hand. "Going into last year's series on home soil, England had virtually the same team for 18 months and had built up a lot of momentum and confidence, but a lot has changed in 15 months," he said. "So much so that, if the English aren't on their game come the start of the first Test at the Gabba, we will hammer them."

WAR OF WORDS: WHO'S SAYING WHAT

'He [Stephen Harmison] struggled here last time and that will be on his mind. Mentally it will also be a big test for him because he is the sort of guy who gets quite homesick' AUSTRALIA'S GLENN McGRATH

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