Flintoff joins space race to boost England's Ashes quest

All-rounder uses Nasa technology to aid recovery but now Bell keeps physios busy
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The Independent Online

Andrew Flintoff, who has already performed like a man hardly of this earth in the Ashes series, is using space technology to ensure his continued participation. The man who is determined to defy the strains of his body to play the next three matches has been sleeping with a machine designed by Nasa.

Whether it was the device or merely the natural healing process, Flintoff looked as fluent in movement as he has done for 10 days yesterday when the England team gathered here in Birmingham ahead of the third npower Test starting tomorrow. But just as it was possible to be optimistic at last about Flintoff – at least for this match – there were suddenly doubts raised about the middle-order batsman, Ian Bell.

During an indoor football match between some of the players on Monday evening, Bell turned over on an ankle. He received treatment and missed some elements of England's training yesterday. Although he batted without any distress, he was seen on the outfield later in full batting gear with England's naturally concerned medical team who will take no risks.

England have no batting cover in Birmingham and although the selectors insist they know who to call on, the names on their list hardly stand out. Bell, who has been recalled to the team in place of the injured Kevin Pietersen, made no mention of the ankle but England attract suspicion when their players are injured, having developed an ignoble record of excessive optimism or misplaced treatment, which they are at last changing.

Flintoff now seems certain to play but nobody can rest easy until he steps over the line tomorrow – and even that might be too soon considering the five arduous days that lie ahead. The Game Ready device he has been wearing in bed combines intermittent compression and cold therapy.

Based on the traditional Rice method (rest, ice compression, elevation) the gizmo was designed by scientists based on spacesuit technology. Flintoff, small wonder, has had trouble sleeping with it attached to his knee, so if he turns up tomorrow with a perfect joint but yawning nobody should be surprised. All eyes were on the warrior when the team came out to train at Edgbaston yesterday. Like Bell, he missed the football warm-up but then bowled three overs on the edge of the square, one at full tilt.

In the nets Flintoff batted with some lack of control (he was bowled behind his legs by Monty Panesar) but it was perhaps more important that he looked in no discomfort.

He then bowled at reasonable pace and without any seeming impediment to his movement. There was no limping either but that may only manifest itself amid the tension of the match. The weather was warm and breezy here yesterday though is expected to become much less bright as the week wears on. The pitch, thought by the groundsman Steve Rouse to be under-prepared, is said to be hard.

Michael Clarke, Australia's vice-captain, said he expects spin to play a part, but nobody is expecting England to play two spinners and, Pietersen apart, both sides may be unchanged.