Flintoff ready to unleash the perfect storm, says Strauss

Captain holds faith in retiring hero ahead of series climax that will decide England's Test future

In the momentous Test match that begins at The Oval today English cricket has much to gain and much more to lose. Should England prevail and reclaim the Ashes a nation will rejoice and ought immediately to ensure that the triumph will not be squandered on the altar to be found on the upper floor of a double decker bus travelling to Trafalgar Square.

If they lose to Australia, as can be anticipated, and lose badly, as must be feared, the team and the game will suffer a setback from which both may take years to recover. The game will survive because it always has, but defeat at home in Test series over three consecutive seasons – to India in 2007, to South Africa in 2008 and now to Australia – would be a bitter blow. The England team has always been central to the sport's status but it has become something more as the brand that markets the game.

There is no doubt that the team led by Andrew Strauss can win the fifth Test to take the series 2-1 (the same score as in 2005, which sent the country into paroxysms of ecstasy) and their protestations that they tend to have a habit of coming back after poor performances are not entirely fanciful. It has already occurred in this series as England demonstrated at Lord's after narrowly escaping from Cardiff with a draw.

They can only hope – and their sleepless nights may have been interspersed with prayers – that the return of Andrew Flintoff for the last time in Test cricket will inspire them one more time. Strauss certainly thought so yesterday. "For a big game like this it is a massive plus to have him in the side," said England's captain. "It's kind of the perfect storm. He's going to be completely motivated to go out on a high – a must-win Ashes Test, at home, full house. The script is written perfectly and that's really encouraging."

Strauss rebuffed the notion that the relationship between captain and star player was strained. "I totally disagree with that," he said. "I spoke to Freddie after the Headingley Test, we both know where each other stood on that matter and some of the stuff that has been said has been quite a long way off the mark. He can lift others but we won't win the game just with his performances. We need all 11 of us to stand up and be counted."

So they do and so far in this series that is where England have been found wanting. The statistics tell no lies. Five of the six leading run scorers are Australian and the three leading wicket-takers hail from the same place.

But this, as their estimable captain, Ricky Ponting, is aware, counts for nought after the coin is tossed this morning. Batting first is important – if only because the players believe it to be so – but it will matter not a jot if England respond to that good fortune as they did at Leeds. Equally, if they were to bowl first and prise out a couple of Aussies with the new ball under indifferent skies then anything may be possible.

As Ponting said when asked yesterday to compare this to 2005: "It's a long time ago. I'm extremely excited about this match and have been since the end of the Headingley Test. As a team we are excited and feel that things are going really well for us.

"But it's also important that we put Leeds behind us. We can't just expect that things will flow on – we have to make it happen again."

Assuming Flintoff's fitness, England will make at least two changes. The champion all-rounder will be joined by the debutant middle-order batsman Jonathan Trott, whom it was confirmed yesterday will bat at number five with Ian Bell at three and Paul Collingwood at four. It looks a messy, if essential, compromise so late in the day.

No one wishes Trott ill but his selection – on merit – is a reflection, perhaps an indictment of the ills at the heart of the professional game in England that Ashes victory alone will not cure. He was born and bred in South Africa and belatedly nailed his colours to England's mast. Like Kevin Pietersen, who England have missed grievously, he is not by any stretch of the imagination a product of the English system. But can England win? Their captain was hardly about to be pessimistic.

"I'm absolutely certain we are going to come out and play well this week. I've got no doubt about it," he said. "The crowd will get behind us, there is going to be fantastic support for us and the guys are going to go out there in the right frame of mind and enjoy their cricket. We need to hit the ground running but I'm confident we can cause some real troubles on this wicket." The nation may hope, but it is not yet confident.

Pitch report, teams, TV and weather for the final Ashes Test

Pitch report Expected to be a typical Kennington surface, with some pace and bounce giving cause for optimism for both batsman and bowlers.

Television times Sky Sports 1, HD1, 10.00-19.00 Highlights Five, 19.15-20.00.

Weather report Today: Light rain showers, partly cloudy. Max temp: 24C. Tomorrow: Sunny morning, rain in afternoon. Max temp: 23C. Saturday: Sunny intervals with possible rain. Max temp: 23C. Sunday: Partly cloudy with Sunny intervals. Max temp: 25C. Monday: Chance of rain, partly cloudy all day. Max temp: 2C.

England (probable): A J Strauss (capt), J M Anderson, I R Bell, S C J Broad, P D Collingwood, A N Cook, A Flintoff, S J Harmison, M J Prior (w), G P Swann, J L Trott.

Australia (probable): R T Ponting (capt), M J Clarke, S R Clark, B J Haddin (w), B W Hilfenhaus, M E K Hussey, M G Johnson, S M Katich, M J North, P M Siddle, S R Watson.

Umpires: B Bowden (NZ) & A Rauf (Pak).

FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam