Flintoff factor suits South Africa, says Arthur

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The Independent Online

South Africa sense the spectre of Andrew Flintoff may haunt England and play into their hands ahead of the first Test at Lord's tomorrow.

Flintoff was not deemed ready to take part in the first encounter of the four-match series when England named their squad last week. But South Africa coach Mickey Arthur fully expects England's key all-rounder to be back for the second Test at Headingley – and believes his shadow is likely to put the remainder of England's bowling attack under an unhelpful microscope.

Arthur has also identified a potential weakness in Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood in England's middle order and discounts the possibility of South Africa becoming embroiled in any Kevin Pietersen-themed "sideshows" this summer.

But it is the proximity of Flintoff's return which he believes could destabilise England most.

"The Flintoff factor lingers over England – because he's too good a player not to be picked," Arthur said. "If you've got a class performer, a fantastic cricketer like him available to you, I think you'd be silly not to select him. He's got to come back – and he's got to come back for somebody. Somebody will be unlucky.

"Within the whole pressure cooker of Test cricket, there might be one or two little personal contests going on in the England side."

As for Bell and Collingwood – both desperately short of runs in the series victory over New Zealand – Arthur has no qualms about singling them out. "I think it is obvious that those two will be under pressure," he said.

"If we can get into five and six when the ball is pretty new, that will be pretty good – and I think there will be one bowler bowling with a cloud over him, knowing that Flintoff is probably going to be fit for the second Test."

Pietersen, meanwhile, can expect his largely front-foot technique to be tested by a barrage of pace from South Africa's fast bowlers. But Arthur insists neither captain Graeme Smith nor any of his players will be tempted to revisit old disagreements with their South Africa-born adversary.

"Yesterday we had a huge discussion on that – and we're not going to get involved in any sideshows," he explained. "We don't want to be fighting with the opposition and therefore ultimately fighting with ourselves.

"We want to do everything well and with aggression – but that does not mean fighting and getting involved in any sideshows. We don't want to be saying too much in the series. We want to let our body language and bat and ball do the talking."

Smith in particular has rarely seen eye to eye with Pietersen – who described him as a "muppet" in his autobiography – but he will be keeping his counsel this summer.

"Graeme is pretty adamant he's not going to get involved," Arthur said. "In fact, there is a lot of respect for Kevin in our dressing room. Those personal issues, certainly for Graeme, are water under the bridge. It's finished and done and dusted."

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