England stay loyal to old guard in Flintoff's absence

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The Independent Online

Continuity and loyalty have become the catchphrases of the England selectors and the quartet showed both yesterday by picking an unchanged 12-man squad for Thursday's third Test against New Zealand. England will assess the conditions at Trent Bridge before deciding on their starting XI but it would be a major surprise if they were to make any changes to the team that completed a remarkable victory over the same opponents a week ago in Manchester.

It will be the first time in 123 years that England have picked the same side for five consecutive Tests, but for how long will the loyalty shown to Paul Collingwood, Ian Bell, Tim Ambrose and James Anderson continue? The eventual return to fitness of one man – Andrew Flintoff – will influence events hugely, changing the mindset of the selectors and putting those named above under pressure.

Flintoff is pencilled in to return for the first Test against South Africa on 10 July, giving those in the Test team one last chance to impress. The player or players that make way are unlikely to disappear completely. Geoff Miller, England's chairman of selectors believes that the ever-increasing volume of cricket will result in him requiring a large pool of players.

"Were giving Andrew time with his side injury as we did with his foot injury," said Miller. "We're in constant contact with him and his medical people. It's a bit of a dicey rib injury. We're not going to rush him and we'll play what we've got. It's all about a squad these days not just a team. The intensity of international cricket means that there's got to be rotation."

The return of Flintoff could lead to a change of strategy. England are committed to a four man attack with Collingwood, fitness permitting, bowling a few overs of swing to give the fast men a rest. If this was to continue against South Africa, Anderson would be the bowler to go.

But naming Flintoff in a four-man attack would be a risk. It would increase his workload and increase the chances of his ankle injury returning. Therefore it would probably be a batsman – Collingwood or Bell – that misses out.

Flintoff's batting has been poor for quite some time and England would be reluctant to bat him at six. His batting form would put greater pressure on England's wicket-keeper to score runs and Matthew Prior appears to be a far more accomplished run scorer than Ambrose.

England's selectors will be hoping that the loyalty they are showing to the players will be returned when the offers from the lucrative Indian Premier League begin landing in their web mail accounts.

"We'll have to monitor that one," said Miller. "All I would ask from the players is that if we show loyalty to them, then they show us some loyalty and if something crops up to let us know where they stand so we can deal with it."

England's squad for the final Test against New Zealand at Trent Bridge, Thursday: MP Vaughan (Yorkshire, capt) Age 31 Tests 79, AN Cook (Essex) 21 29, AJ Strauss (Middlesex) 31 48, KP Pietersen (Hampshire) 27 38, IR Bell (Warwickshire) 26 38, PD Collingwood (Durham), TR Ambrose (Warwickshire, wkt) 25 5, RJ Sidebottom (Nottinghamshire) 30 15, SC Broad (Nottinghamshire) 21 5, JM Anderson (Lancashire) 25 24, MS Panesar (Northamptonshire) 26 28, CT Tremlett (Hampshire) 26 3.