Fletcher fears captaincy could douse Flintoff's fire

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The Independent Online

Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, is still not convinced that Andrew Flintoff should take over from Michael Vaughan when the current captain vacates the job. Fletcher thought Flintoff captained England well during the drawn first Test against India but he fears the task of leading the side may detract from his all-round powers.

"He has a lot to do," Fletcher said yesterday in Mohali on the outskirts of the city of Chandigarh, the venue for Thursday's second Test. "He had a lot to do just as an all-rounder and adding the captaincy could be... But you never know with an individual. It might be just what he needs to step his game up to another level but we will only find that out later on. There might be a chance that it is asking too much of him.

"He captained well considering the circumstances. It wasn't an easy game. He was thrown in and had to grab hold of the reins straight away, which he did. He wants to lead from the front, you could see that character. He grabbed that ball on the final day when he realised it was his job to try and contain them for a while. He took the job in really difficult circumstances and he has done very well."

Fletcher's concerns are understandable. Flintoff is England's biggest asset and the coach is reluctant to do anything that will prevent him being the force he currently is. It was clear to see that Flintoff loved every minute of the Nagpur Test. At the post-match press conference it was hard to keep the smile off his face. But he also looked absolutely shattered and he will need to show remarkable powers of recovery if he is to be as fresh for the second Test as he was for the first.

The only modern player to have attempted to take on such a heavy workload was Ian Botham, and it is the statistics of England's greatest all-rounder while he was captain that are probably scaring Fletcher. Botham captained England in 12 Test matches between June 1980 and July 1981, and while in charge he scored 276 runs at an average of 13.14 and took 35 wickets at an average of 33.09. The pair are different characters but England will need more than that from Flintoff if they are to continue to push Australia for the No 1 spot.

With the chances of Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick returning to India declining by the day Flintoff looks certain to be in charge for the rest of the tour. At the end of three back-to-back Tests and seven one-dayers Fletcher will have a better idea of how Flintoff will cope.

Flintoff will be able to call on the services of Kevin Pietersen after an X-ray on the batsman's left elbow showed there to be no damage. Pietersen hurt his arm while diving in the field on the final day in Nagpur.

Following a knee arthros-copy last Friday, England paceman Simon Jones has been ruled out of the rest of the Test series, although the ECB says he has a chance of returning for the one-dayers.

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