Flintoff returns to tackle India openers

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The Independent Online

For England the assignment in today's deciding NatWest Series encounter against India at Lord's is glaringly obvious; break the opening partnership of Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly in the first 10 overs of the Indian innings or you are in big trouble. In the three games England have won in this compelling seven-match series the goal has been achieved, but in the remaining matches it has not and India have marched on to reach totals in excess of 316.

As tasks go it is not an easy one. Not only are Tendulkar and Ganguly outstanding players in their own right, scoring a combined total of 26,527 one-day runs including 63 hundreds, they enjoy batting with each other too. The pair are the most successful batting partnership in the history of limited over cricket, scoring 7,863 runs during the time they have spent together at the crease.

England's chances of meeting the challenge will be made easier by the return of Andrew Flintoff, who successfully came through a fitness test on his left ankle yesterday. Flintoff missed England's previous two matches, games in which India struck 324 batting first and successfully chased down 316, but he bowled between 15-20 deliveries on an old pitch yesterday under the close inspection of Kirk Russell, the team physiotherapist.

"Fred [Flintoff] is coming along pretty well," said Peter Moores, the England coach. "He has had a bat and a bowl and he has suffered no reaction, no pain so far. And providing there is no reaction before the game he has a great chance of playing. So, fingers crossed, he will be okay.

"He had an injection on Tuesday and that has settled it down and taken the pain away. It took the inflammation away and we will play him providing there is no risk that the ankle will get any worse. It will be a case of monitoring the joint and looking where we go to ensure that he stays fit and keeps playing."

The prospect of regular injections is not something any player wants, but neither is annual surgery or not playing again and it appears that Flintoff, at 29, is running out of options. Every sportsman would like to compete without the need to take painkilling or inflammation removing medication but for many, sadly, it is part of the job.

England will wait to see how Flintoff comes through today's match before deciding whether he is fit enough to travel with the Twenty20 squad to South Africa on Sunday, and a couple of players – possibly Ian Bell and Dimitri Mascarenhas – have been told to prepare for a late call. For James Anderson, however, there is no such uncertainty. It was yesterday confirmed that Anderson had been drafted in to England's Twenty20 squad as a replacement for Ravi Bopara.

The return of Flintoff means that Luke Wright or Mascarenhas will miss out. Wright is the classier batsman but, with Flintoff back, he would bat at eight and England are likely to go for Mascarenhas, a more reliable bowler.

The match will be particularly special to India's big three batsmen – Tendulkar, Ganguly and Rahul Dravid, the captain. All are in their mid-thirties and unlikely to tour England again.

Amazingly, Tendulkar is yet to score a half-century, let alone a hundred in nine innings for India at Lord's. He has struck one major score here, 125, when playing in a Princess of Wales Memorial Match in 1998. Ten years after her death, and after striking four nineties in his last eight one-day innings, the stage is set for a modern great to leave these shores in style.

England (probable): PD Collingwood (Durham, capt), AN Cook (Essex), IR Bell (Wawickshire), MJ Prior (Sussex, wkt), OA Shah (Middlesex), KP Pietersen (Hampshire), A Flintoff (Lancashire), SCJ Broad (Leicestershire), JM Anderson (Lancashire), MS Panesar (Northamptonshire), AD Mascarenhas (Hampshire).

India (probable): R Dravid (capt), MS Dhoni (wkt), SR Tendulkar, SC Ganguly, Yuvraj Singh, G Gambhir, P Chawla, RR Powar, RV Uthappa, AB Agarkar, Z Khan.

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