Flintoff's call a key factor in England's Ashes challenge

Vaughan stays upbeat despite duck
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The Independent Online

A large proportion of the England supporters in South Australia may end up not giving one if the performance of Andrew Flintoff's side here mirrors that of Brisbane, but the outcome of the second Test, and probably the fate of the Ashes, appears to depend on the captain's ability to call correctly at the toss tonight.

If Flintoff makes the right choice and elects to bat he will have given England their best chance of drawing level in the series. Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook, Ian Bell, Paul Collingwood and Kevin Pietersen will need to avoid the first-day nerves that turned Stephen Harmison into a jittering wreck, but if they can take England's first innings total past 350, they will put this highly motivated and ruthless Australian side under pressure.

England's success in 2005 was based around batting first and posting competitive totals. Michael Vaughan's side achieved this goal in all but the first Test at Lord's - which they lost. By batting first England also prevent Shane Warne from bowling on a worn pitch that is taking spin. England's batsmen countered Warne reasonably well in Brisbane but this is a venue where the leg-spinner has taken more than 50 Test wickets.

And because of the Warne effect, along with concerns about the quality of England's bowling, one fears the worst for the tourists if Flintoff were to lose the toss. Flintoff has lost the toss in four of his last five games as captain, so is he out of form with the coin, or is he due to win one? It was at the second Test in 2005 that Ricky Ponting made a howler when he invited England to bat on a slow, flat, Edgbaston pitch. It was the error that let England back in to the series, and it is hard to believe the Australian captain will make the same mistake at a delightful Adelaide Oval, where the winner of the toss has batted first on 22 of the previous 23 occasions. Indeed, the last time an Australian captain opted to bowl first here was in 1980.

The pitch is considered to be the most batsman friendly in Australia, a verdict endorsed by the home side who have passed 550 in three of the the last four occasions they have played here. In the other game they scored a paltry 428. The high scoring has not produced boring draws, with only one of the last 15 Tests ending in a stalemate.

Adelaide is a venue that Australia enjoy playing at. They have won nine and lost one of their previous 11 matches here and their top four batsmen - Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting and Damien Martyn - all average more than 50 at the venue.

It is hoped that Flintoff's men do not spend too much time analysing these statistics because they are pretty intimidating, but they do give an indication of the size of the task facing the team. England are likely to make one change to the side heavily beaten in the first Test, with Monty Panesar coming in for James Anderson.

The pitch in Adelaide offers spinners more assistance than most but it is also a nice ground to bowl seam on. There is normally something in the surface for the quicker men, especially on the first morning when the new ball swings. The abrasive nature of the pitch encourages reverse-swing but the true bounce and short boundaries square of the wicket make it a difficult ground to defend.

Despite the boundaries, Panesar must play as a second spinner. He is a potential match-winner and even if he does not take a stack of wickets he should give his captain the control that was missing in Brisbane. Panesar and Ashley Giles do not offer England great variety. Harmison's rehabilitation continued in the nets yesterday and he looks set to keep his place.

Andrew Strauss realises how difficult it will be to turn things around. He said: "We know that in the first three days in Brisbane we did not play to the levels we need to to beat Australia. We have shown in past series that we can come back from an early defeat and we need to learn from the mistakes we made at the Gabba.

"We can't keep looking back to 2005 because what took place then is now largely irrelevant. But the important thing is that we did learn lessons from the defeat at Lord's, and we have to do the same here.

"We need to try and put Australia under pressure. We have plans on how to do it but we need to put them into action. There is still a very positive vibe in the camp. It is not all doom and gloom. We have to build on the few positives that came out of the first Test."

England's bowling in Brisbane was worryingly ineffective but their batting in the first innings was poor, too. Several batsmen got out to soft shots and no one was more culpable than Strauss, who was caught twice in the deep hooking.

"When you hook you have to pick the right ball and on two occasions in the last game I did not do that," said Strauss. "It is something I need to work on. I need to be more selective on length and possibly wait until the ball is a little older before I play the shot. I will continue to play it because it has brought me a lot of runs.

"You have to be positive against Australia and take the game to them if you want to beat them, but you don't want to be reckless. Unfortunately, having got out twice, I looked reckless in the first Test."

Australia are expected to name an unchanged side. They are expecting to win the match whereas England, one feels, would be content with a draw.

Michael Vaughan described his return to competitive cricket as a "real positive" even though it ended in a seven-ball duck in England Academy's defeat to Western Australia Second XI in Perth.

Vaughan, the England captain until knee problems and surgery late last year, was playing his first match since his operation. He began in the field, and was untroubled by his injury in his short stay at the crease - batting at No 4 in the rain-shortened one-day match which saw his side stumble to 4 for 2 on the way to an unsuccessful reply to 218 for 8.

"Obviously, it's slightly disappointing I didn't get any runs - but to be honest, today was all about getting back to playing cricket," he said after the Academy's 40-run defeat. Vaughan added: "It's a huge positive to me that I'm back on the field playing cricket. It is the early stages of a comeback."

Aussie stronghold Oval record

Australia have won nine and lost one of the last 11 Tests they have played in Adelaide. The defeat, to India in 2003, came when they were deprived of the services of their two finest bowlers, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath.

Last 11 matches at Adelaide Oval

Year/Opponents/Aus Runs/Result

2005 West Indies/610 for 13/Aus by 7 wkts

2004 New Zealand/714 for 10/Aus by 213 runs

2003 India/752 for 20/India by 4 wkts

2002 England/552 for 10/Aus by inns & 51 runs

2001 South Africa/746 for 17/Aus by 246 runs

2000 West Indies/533 for 15 /Aus by 5 wkts

1999 India/680 for 18 /Aus by 285 runs

1998 England/669 for 15/Aus by 205 runs

1998 South Africa/577 for 17/Draw

1997 West Indies/517 for 10/Aus by inns & 183 runs

1996 Sri Lanka/717 for 15/Aus by 148 runs