Flintoff takes back captaincy and warns Australia 'we have no fear'

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The Independent Online

Andrew Flintoff proudly accepted the challenge of leading England's Ashes challenge yesterday, and England's favourite sportsman promised to dispel doubts about their ability to win in Australia this winter.

Even the coach, Duncan Fletcher, has admitted he is less confident about England's ability to retain the Ashes they won in such spectacular fashion last summer because of the number of injuries they have suffered since.

But despite missing the likes of the captain, Michael Vaughan, and pace bowler Simon Jones, Flintoff is straining at the leash to renew hostilities with Australia. "Having experienced the emotion of the Ashes last summer, the carrot that's been dangled in front of us is huge," he said.

"The lads who were involved in that, they want to experience that again, and the lads who weren't they want to play in it and be involved in it.

"We've got to go over there confident - we can't have any fear of losing the Ashes or giving them back. We have to go out there and play as we did last summer, probably even better."

Flintoff, man-of-the-series in last summer's magnificent triumph that caught the nation's imagination like no series before, won a close competition with Andrew Strauss for the captaincy largely because of the aura he has now created, one of which the Australian team are wary.

Like Ian Botham before him, 28-year-old Flintoff has won the respect of Australia with his stunning displays last summer and that factor gave him the edge over Strauss, who will count himself unfortunate but will now revert to being among the ranks after leading England impressively to a Test series victory over Pakistan and a drawn one-day series. Flintoff was recovering from an operation on his left ankle at the time.

His knowledge, though, will be fully utilised by Flintoff, who intends to again seek the advice of his senior players, as he did to good effect last winter when he steered England to a drawn Test series in India.

"Andrew Strauss has done a fantastic job over the last couple of months against Pakistan and he's going to be someone that's going to be very important for myself in India and Australia," Flintoff confirmed.

"From doing the job earlier this summer I've learnt a few things and I probably won't be bowling 51 overs in an innings again like I did at Lord's [against Sri Lanka, in May], but from the bowling point of view the situation of the game will dictate when I bowl.

"It does if I'm captain or whether it was Michael or Andrew Strauss. I've learned quite a bit by doing the job and I've got good people around me as well.

"In India I had Steve Harmison and Matthew Hoggard helping me out. I've also Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Strauss. He's an important member of the English cricket team."

Boosted by the selectors' decision to give him the captaincy, Flintoff has also been lifted by his the progress he has made with his recovery from surgery. "I've still got a few more weeks to top that fitness up. We're going to India and I'll have the opportunity to play out there and play in the nets and once we get to Australia we've got warm-up games so I'm not overly concerned.

"I'm not someone who needs loads of cricket to feel in some sort of form. I'm pleased with the preparation we've got building up to the end of November."

Flintoff will also take charge of the one-day side - and win his 100th England one-day cap - at next month's Champions Trophy in India. He leads a 14-man party to the subcontinent hoping to build on recent positive performances against Pakistan.