England seek inspiration from presence of Flintoff

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The Independent Online

Will England's decision to allow Andrew Flintoff to participate in the team's final practice session before this morning's first Test against South Africa inspire or inhibit those players whose future in the team he is placing under pressure? Flintoff spoke to Geoff Miller, the chief selector, about joining up with the England squad earlier in the week, even though one of Paul Collingwood, Ian Bell, James Anderson or Stuart Broad seems sure to make way for him in the second Test at Headingley, which begins a week on Friday. Flintoff's appearance adds further spice to what is sure to be an enthralling and bruising encounter between two of the most evenly-matched teams in cricket.

Michael Vaughan, the England captain, does not believe Flintoff's presence will have a detrimental effect on his side even though, as if to prove a point, the all-rounder struck Bell on the helmet with a vicious bouncer and had Broad edging to slip during a 45-minute bowl in the indoor school at Lord's. It is not Flintoff's form that is in doubt, as he proved playing for Lancashire in Tuesday's Twenty20 quarter-final against Middlesex. Lancashire lost but the 30-year-old claimed 3 for 17 in four hostile overs, top scored with 53 and took a catch at slip. Durability is the commodity the injury-prone Flintoff needs to prove he has.

"I have no concerns about my players going in to their shells because of Freddie," said Vaughan. "That is international sport. You know that pressure is on you and you have to be able to live with that. We want Freddie back in the England team and he was here today to practice and to get his foot in. He rang me up and asked whether he could come along. He played for Lancashire at The Oval on Tuesday evening. I know that when you have been out of the team for a while, just getting back in the England dressing room can do you the world of good, and that could be as a player next week or the week after. It is great to have him back – talking to the players. Stuart Broad has already been picking his brain.

"In an ideal world I would love to have him with me here against South Africa but he has not had enough cricket. It would have been unfair to bring him back so soon, but because he is Freddie Flintoff he gets huge exposure and everybody pushes for him. As soon as he has bowled three overs people are calling for him to be back in the England team, but people forget he has been out for a long time, not just with his side injury but also his ankle. It is not easy to walk back in to Test cricket. Getting more overs under his belt and spending more time in the middle batting will do him the word of good, so that when he returns to the team he is confident in his own ability too.

"We know he is not far away from playing, but how do we get him in the team? We will have to decide on that once he becomes available and he has had enough cricket behind him. I don't see it as added pressure, it is great to have him back among the team. Whether he is back for the second Test depends on how he goes against Hampshire at The Rose Bowl this week. He is in decent spirits and he says he is getting better. Hopefully he will have a good game, we will have a good game and the selectors will have a tough decision to make."

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