Andrew Flintoff will make his much-awaited Test comeback at Headingley this morning but the England selectors appear to have accepted that his days as a world-class all-rounder are probably a thing of the past. After happily announcing that Flintoff's 18-month injury exile from the side was to end, Michael Vaughan, the England captain, said that the 2005 Ashes hero would now bat at seven in the second Test against South Africa, not six, the position where he built his reputation.
Flintoff's place in the batting order would have put a bit of a dampener on his delight at being recalled and it was the most positive piece of news to come out of the England camp on a day when injury scares threw their preparations into disarray. Ryan Sidebottom and James Anderson carried a huge workload in the drawn first Test at Lord's, sharing 102 overs, and are both doubtful with stiff backs.
As cover England have called up Chris Tremlett and Nottinghamshire's Darren Pattinson, a Grimsby-born former roofer who has played just 11 first-class matches. Pattinson was born in England but he is a product of the Australian system, having spent the past 23 years in the country.
The 29 year-old fast bowler is a latecomer to first-class cricket, making his debut for Victoria in January 2007 – three weeks after Flintoff played his last Test for England against Australia at Sydney. In his first season with Nottinghamshire he has performed superbly, taking 29 County Championship wickets at an average of 21 in six matches. His potential was recognised a fortnight ago when he was the surprise selection in England's 30-man Champions Trophy squad.
Before driving to Leeds, Pattinson said: "It's been an incredible couple of months and to have the chance to play Test cricket for England would be the ultimate honour."
The call-up is wonderful news for Pattinson, a strongly built, away-swing bowler, but it is a kick in the groin for Matthew Hoggard, Steve Harmison and Simon Jones, each of whom would have hoped and expected to be in the England mix when situations like this arise. Hoggard would be the most disappointed. Headingley is his home ground and a venue that gives assistance to his type of bowling.
England are optimistic that Anderson will be fit but Vaughan was at best hopeful about Sidebottom's chances. The injury concerns mean that England are likely to pick four fast bowlers and Monty Panesar this morning, a strategy which would result in Paul Collingwood's run of 33 consecutive Test appearances coming to an end.
That is tough on Collingwood, but selecting three seamers would be a risky tactic, especially when the captain is uncertain about the durability and experience of a couple of his charges. Tremlett was picked as cover ahead of Pattinson but the selectors do not seem totally convinced of his character, leaving the Notts man with an excellent chance of replacing Sidebottom.
"I really hope Ryan comes through," said Vaughan, who will captain England for the 50th time in Tests today. "He is a key bowler for us, particularly here where the ball swings around. If he is not right he will be missed by our attack because of the options he offers. He has been a revelation for us in the last year and when he is fully fit he gets that snappy swing that makes him so effective. But he needs to be confident in his body to do this.
"It is a huge honour to captain England 50 times," Vaughan added, "but you only reach that achievement by having good players, good management and winning games. I am lucky to have had a few of each."
Playing five bowlers and batting Flintoff at seven would place extra pressure on England's top five batsmen, as well as Tim Ambrose coming in at six. In Ambrose, Flintoff and Stuart Broad, England have three No 7s and they will be hoping to accumulate 80-100 runs between them. The decision puts Ambrose's batting in the spotlight and if he is to keep Sussex's Matthew Prior out of the side, he will need to score runs here.
Despite his poor batting form, Flintoff still views himself as a batsman who bowls a bit and wants to be looked upon as a swashbuckling No 6 capable of playing match-winning innings. But the demotion to seven suggests that he needs to produce something special with the bat to change the outlook of the selectors.
"I have always seen Andrew more as a No 7," Vaughan said. "I think his style of play is very much suited to that position. He is very attacking and given the opportunity he can take the game away from the opposition from that position. He is comfortable playing there and it takes some of the pressure off him and hopefully that will allow him to go out there and express himself.
"If Ambrose ends up batting a t six I am confident he can score runs there. Sometimes players need someone to show faith in them to go on and get that big score. He's done that before in New Zealand and only two Test innings ago he got a really good 70 against them."
South Africa have an injury concern themselves and will wait until this morning before deciding whether Neil McKenzie's groin strain has eased. Jean-Paul Duminy is on stand-by.
Possible Teams: England: M P Vaughan (Yorkshire, capt), A N Cook (Essex), A J Strauss (Middlesex), K P Pietersen (Hampshire), I R Bell (Warwickshire), T R Ambrose (Warwickshire, wkt), A Flintoff (Lancashire), S C Broad (Nott'mshire), J M Anderson (Lancashire), M S Panesar (Northamptonshire), D Pattinson (Nott'mshire).
South Africa: G C Smith (capt), N D McKenzie, H M Amla, J H Kallis, A G Prince, A B de Villiers, M V Boucher (wkt), M Morkel, P L Harris, D W Steyn, M Ntini.
Easing up: How Headingley's Test terrors have been tamed
Headingley is a venue that has historically helped fast bowers, but that reputation has changed in recent times. In the last two Tests here, against West Indies in May last year and versus Pakistan in August 2006, seven hundreds have been scored and just one five-wicket haul taken – by Pakistan's Umar Gul.
1980 - 1989
Average score per wicket 30.08
Average runs per Test 929.6
Team scores over 400 4
Highest team score 601-7
(Australia v England, 1989)
Centuries scored: 11
Five-wicket hauls: 17
1990 – 1999
Average score per wicket 31.56
Average runs per Test 994.25
Team scores over 400 6
Highest team score 653-4
(Australia v England, 1993)
Centuries scored: 15
Five-wicket hauls: 13
2000 – 2007
Average score per wicket 34.38
Average runs per Test 1,105.4
Team scores over 400 7
Highest team score 628-8
(India v England, 2002)
Centuries scored: 17
Five-wicket hauls: 6
Sunny spells with showers expected, south-westerly breeze. Maximum temperature 16C