A fit and raring to go Andrew Flintoff was coy about taking on the extra mantle of captaining England in tonight's day/night encounter against India. Flintoff believes he has recovered from the knee injury that kept him out of Monday's 42-run victory in Birmingham and that he will play in the fourth of seven NatWest matches against India, but speculation over who will lead the team at Old Trafford was rife after Paul Collingwood missed yesterday's final practice session with a virus.
Collingwood is expected to be fit to play and it appears as though Flintoff has been forgiven for his winter misdemeanours, which resulted in him being sacked as vice-captain. England's all-rounder seems to have benefited from Peter Moores' directive that every player starts his time as coach with a clean slate. For Moores 'Fredalo', the incident where an inebriated Flintoff fell off a pedalo at 4am in the morning, 30 hours before a crucial World Cup match, is now nothing more than history.
The England selectors, of which Moores is one, are refusing to say who would take over from Collingwood. They insist that they will only address the issue if it arises. In the past they have committed themselves to a vice-captain only to find that it has left people in invidious positions.
"I know where you are going with this," was Flintoff's reply to an enquiry as to whether he would like to captain the side in the absence of Collingwood. "Paul said in a previous game that if he were to go off the field for a wee that I would take over, but, after that, nothing has really been discussed. I am fully expecting Paul Collingwood to turn up to toss the coin and lead the side."
The return of Flintoff will result in England making at least one change to the team that played so well at Edgbaston. Dimitri Mascarenhas, who missed the same match with a hand injury, is fit too and he and Flintoff could well replace Chris Tremlett and Owais Shah.
"I thought our performance the other day, especially when we were in the field, was as good as I have seen," said Flintoff. "There is competition for places but if I'm fit, hopefully I will get a go. I have come through the training session well. I've bowled, batted, I've done what I needed to do. Hopefully it does not flare up and I can play in this match. It will be reassessed before the match."
Flintoff has played precious little cricket for England in front of his home crowd – his last international appearance at Old Trafford was the Ashes Test of 2005 – and he is desperate to regain his place.
"I don't like missing games at any venue, but more so here than anywhere," he said. "I have been coming to Old Trafford since I was nine and it is a special feeling when I walk in to the place. I have not played a lot in front of my home crowd and I am keen to do it again."
Ian Bell has been England's star performer to date – his 269 runs playing a pivotal role in the team's 2-1 lead – and he yesterday paid tribute to Andy Flower, England's batting coach, for the help he has given him. "I've enjoyed working a lot with Andy Flower, he has given me, certainly in those middle overs, some ideas on how I can improve my batting, which has helped," said Bell.
"In the past, although I wouldn't say I have had a fear of failure, I have got stuck a few times without hitting boundaries and he has given me some options. It's nice to get ideas from him about how he went about his game and how I can put them into mine."
Bell praised the contribution of Allan Donald, England's bowling coach, too. "Allan has been fantastic in the dressing-room," he said. "He is very passionate about the way he talks about playing for your country. That's one thing he has brought in to the team, how much it means to you to play for your country.
India have paid special attention to their fielding this week after three ordinary displays. They are set to change the balance of their side today, playing seven specialist batsmen and four bowlers. Munaf Patel looks like being replaced by Robin Uthappa, a decision that will give the tourists extra firepower at the top of the order. Yuvraj Singh, Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar will share the extra overs.
England (probable) P.D Collingwood (c), A N Cook, M J Prior, I R Bell, K P.Pietersen, A Flintoff, R S Bopara, D Mascarenhas, S C JBroad, M S Panesar, J M Anderson.
India (probable): R Dravid (c), S C Ganguly, S R Tendulkar, R V Uthappa, Y Singh, D Karthik, M S Dhoni, R R Powar, P P Chawla, Z Khan, R P Singh.
Weather and ground conditions
Arctic Monkey concerts here have left the outfield in dreadful condition and Lancashire are fortunate that the weather has been kind. Had it not, the ground would have been a quagmire. The pitch, however, looks good. It is hard, flat and devoid of grass; it should possess pace and bounce, and provide batsmen with an excellent surface for run-scoring.
Max temperature: 18CReuse content