Flintoff fit as England seek elusive consistency

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The Independent Online

Andrew Flintoff has been cleared to play in today's second NatWest Challenge match against India at The Oval. At the conclusion of England's seven-wicket victory over Sourav Ganguly's side on Wednesday, there were fears that the all-rounder had injured his right thumb when he stopped a fierce drive from the India captain while fielding.

The discomfort caused by the blow failed to stop Flintoff bludgeoning three huge sixes in a whirlwind 34 not out but he was still sent for a precautionary X-ray in Nottingham. The scan revealed no break, just bruising, and Flintoff is expected to play in an unchanged side.

The challenge for England in their two remaining matches against India is to maintain the quality of performance witnessed at Trent Bridge.

Under Michael Vaughan's leadership and Nasser Hussain's before he resigned in 2003, England have occasionally played breathtaking one-day cricket but seldom have they performed with any sort of consistency.

You have to go back seven years to find a period when England had a lengthy spell of success. From May 1997 to March 1998, under the captaincy of Michael Atherton and Adam Hollioake, England won eight one-day internationals in a row against major nations. Since then they have had the odd four or five-match unbeaten run but each of these spells included matches against the likes of Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, the Netherlands or Namibia. If games against these teams are taken out, the best unbeaten run since 1998 is... two.

Judging by their performance at Trent Bridge, India are vulnerable. They have too many good players to be written off but the loss of Sachin Tendulkar, with tennis elbow, appeared to affect the confidence of the side. And in an effort to make up for Tendulkar's absence, five of their first seven batsmen got themselves out, either through a rash shot or sloppy cricket.

England will hope to expose this ruthlessly today and at Lord's in the final match on Sunday. After winning seven Tests in a row, Vaughan's side know how to win. This is sure to intimidate India.

England's success on Wednesday was not down to their new strategy. They cantered to a comfortable victory by playing good cricket. The bowlers were aggressive and disciplined. They hit the pitch hard and gave Sehwag, Ganguly and Dravid very little to hit. The execution of these tactics forced them to play poor strokes, and Yuvraj Singh to run himself out.

Alex Wharf claimed the greatest credit for England's win - and rightly so. The Glamorgan paceman may not be the best talker in town - when interviewed after taking 6 for 5 for his county on Sunday, his reply to the first question was "I have nothing really to say" - but he impressed everyone with his high action and the quiet and deliberate way he went about his work.

His bowling is unlikely to produce the same results in Test matches but it is ideally suited to one-day cricket. Any bowler who consistently hits a good length with venom, and nips the ball back into a right-hander, is hard to score off because the angle of the ball restricts the range of strokes he can play.

In Test cricket, though, a bowler should be able to move the ball away from a right-handed batsman because good batsmen are seldom bowled, their technique ensuring that the bat and pad cover the stumps. By moving the ball away, in the air or off the seam, the bowler threatens the outside edge of the bat, and this is the reason why the highest proportion of wickets taken in Test cricket are either caught by the wicket-keeper or in the slip region.

* Vikram Solanki needs just six against India today to bring up 1,000 runs in limited-overs matches this season. However, the 28-year-old Worcestershire player will not be flinging the bat as he might have done previously. "It is perhaps not for me to say whether I would have played differently in the past, others might be better judges," Solanki said. "Getting left out of the England side I had to address a few aspects of my game and I went away and did that, and fortunately it resulted in a recall."

England (probable): M P Vaughan (capt), M E Trescothick, V S Solanki, A J Strauss, A Flintoff, P D Collingwood, G O Jones (wkt), A F Giles, A G Wharf, D Gough, S J Harmison.

India (from): S C Ganguly (capt), V Sehwag, V V S Laxman, R Dravid (wkt), Yuvraj Singh, M Kaif, R S Gavaskar, A B Agarkar, I K Pathan, A Kumble, L Balaji, A Nehra, Harbhajan Singh.

Umpires: M R Benson (Eng) and D B Hair (Aus).