Flintoff fitness regime paying dividends for Vaughan's new order

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The Independent Online

Andrew Flintoff is embarking on a routine of ice-baths and swimming in an attempt to establish himself as a world class all-rounder and inspiration to the younger members of England's one-day squad.

The Lancashire all-rounder has played a surprisingly full role in England's new look one-day squad since they assembled last week, having made a quicker than expected return from a shoulder injury which ruled him out of the Test series victory against Zimbabwe.

England were even considering possible replacements for him when the squad assembled last week, having given up nearly all hope of Flintoff being able to bowl because of his shoulder injury. But, surprisingly, Flintoff delivered six overs for Lancashire in last Wednesday's Cheltenham & Gloucester Trophy quarter-final victory over Middlesex and followed that with five overs during England's warm-up win over Wales, culminating in 10 overs in the two-wicket defeat by Pakistan at Old Trafford on Tuesday.

To combat the effects of bowling again Flintoff will be put through a series of exercises designed to increase his strength over the coming weeks by England's fitness advisor, Nigel Stockill.

"I was very tired after the Pakistan game," Flintoff said. "It's the first time I've really given it a good crack. I really ran in well and I felt physically and mentally tired - it was a very tough day.

"I'm going to have to bowl again in another three days and it's quite a demanding schedule and you do have to look after your body at times like this. We have Nigel with us to make sure we're doing the right things and we have ice baths after every game.

"We do that after every game now and we also have pool sessions to loosen off and maintenance stuff just to keep us going during busy periods like this. It's a lot of cricket, but there is time for rest in between and time to get right for the next game."

Flintoff wants to remain fit over the coming weeks and become part of the new regime developing under the new England captain, Michael Vaughan, and perhaps become a role model for the emerging youngsters in the squad.

"I'm really enjoying playing again now," said Flintoff, who made his 53rd one-day international appearance for England against Pakistan on Tuesday.

"I've played a few games now so I should be taking more responsibility on my shoulders to score runs and take important wickets. "There is probably more pressure on me now to win matches for England or put in performances and set the example for some of the younger lads coming into the side."

That process has already begun with England giving Flintoff the number five spot in the batting order - normally the position reserved for the most influential player in one-day cricket - with Vaughan predicting a bright future for his leading all-rounder in that role.

"I thought Freddie's innings of 30-odd against Pakistan at number five was the sign of him becoming a key player for us in our one-day plans for many years to come," said Vaughan.

Flintoff is equally keen to establish himself in his new senior role and believes it could be the position which will inspire his best form for England.

"I've batted five in one-day cricket for Lancashire and I've been in decent form," he added. "It's good that England have had the faith in me to put me up the order a couple of spots and it's up to me now to reward them by scoring a few runs.

"It's a totally different approach when I bat there. During the World Cup and in previous games I've tended to come in from the 35th over to the end trying to score quick runs whereas at number five I'll hopefully I'll get a chance to build an innings and record some proper scores.

"I'll play in whatever role England ask of me, but if I had a preference I'd definitely like to stay in this role because it gives me the chance to build bigger innings.

"I feel I've improved my performances in one-day cricket during the World Cup and I believe I've improved at the longer form of the game since the start of the season after working hard on my batting with Mike Watkinson at Lancashire."

England travelled down to London yesterday and will train at The Oval today before tomorrow's second NatWest Challenge match. The final instalment of the mini-series is at Lord's on Sunday.

* The former West Indies captain Carl Hooper will stay at Lancashire until the end of this season after agreeing a contract extension. The 36-year-old was originally recruited as a short-term stand-in for the injured spinner Harbhajan Singh, but the India Test bowler failed to recover from a serious finger problem quickly enough and had his contract cancelled last week, giving Hooper the chance to stay on for the full season.

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