Focus on Flintoff fitness

England are talking a confident game about Andrew Flintoff's fitness for the Edgbaston Test - but that will not preclude a nervous wait before the lynchpin all-rounder takes the field.

England's selectors did the easy bit yesterday when they named Lord's match-winner Flintoff in a squad of 13 for the third npower Ashes Test against Australia, starting on Thursday, alongside the injured Kevin Pietersen's batting replacement Ian Bell.



They also delivered an upbeat bulletin on his current roadworthiness but know only too well they must oversee day-to-day monitoring of the knee injury that will finish Flintoff's Test career at the end of the series.



On England's side in their battle to keep their most lethal weapon fit, as they bid to regain the Ashes from the advantageous position of being 1-0 up with three to play, is Flintoff's big heart and still bigger motivation to go out on an all-time high.



"We'll monitor him and see how we go," national selector Geoff Miller confirmed to BBC Radio 5 Live.



"Obviously he's got the problem - that's why he made his decision about Test cricket. But I'm sure it'll take wild dogs to keep him off the Test arena for these three matches."



Flintoff's knee needed surgery after a short and controversial stint at the Indian Premier League, and it has since been reported Pietersen, too, aggravated his Achilles problem taking part in the lucrative Twenty20 franchise tournament.



Miller acknowledges there is a need to ensure IPL contracts do not have a detrimental effect on the fitness of centrally-contracted players - but he appears wary, too, of allowing unwanted diversions to intrude on England's so far successful Ashes campaign.



"It wasn't just the IPL which created this injury (to Pietersen) - and it certainly wasn't on Fred as well," Miller insisted.



"That could have happened at any time. It was coincidental."



While Flintoff's well-being is paramount for England for the remainder of the summer - especially with Pietersen's mercurial talents out of the equation - vindication for the faith they have shown in Bell would not go amiss either.



"He was brought in to cover in the first two Test matches, so naturally he comes in as a batsman," Miller said of the 27-year-old, who has not played a Test since being dropped after England's defeat in Jamaica more than five months ago.



"Yes, we talked about other players; we continually talk about other players to widen our squad to give us some extra backing or strength in the squad in all areas. On this occasion, Ian was the right choice."



Steve Harmison, retained in the squad as obvious pace-bowling cover for Flintoff but perhaps in with a chance in his own right depending on conditions in Birmingham, is another who has not always found recent favour in Andy Flower's England.



"He's up there if the opportunity arises, and we'll see what the surface is like," Miller told Sky Sports News.



"If it's conducive to Steve, then he might get the shout - but we'll wait and see on the morning of the match to make that decision."



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