North hopes Flintoff is fit for Leeds

After third Test fightback batsman wants Australia to 'beat full-strength England'
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The Independent Online

The australian bowling attack might not necessarily agree, having had their deliveries slapped to all parts of Birmingham by Andrew Flintoff on Sunday, but Marcus North is desperate for the England all-rounder to feature in the rest of the Ashes series. His reasons are honourable – and typically Australian: he wants to beat a full-strength home side en route to retaining the urn.

Flintoff is – as ever – fighting to be fit for the fourth Test which starts on Friday at Headingley and the Australian No 6, whose 96 on Monday at Edgbaston went a long way to saving the third Test for his side, hopes the all-rounder is able to play.

"We want to play the best side we can play against when we play any other country," North said. "We have already seen the impact that Andrew Flintoff has had on this series. He had a quiet game [in Birmingham] with the ball [where he failed to take a wicket] but he had that explosive innings with the bat.

"We want to walk away, taking the Ashes back home, beating a full-strength England side."

Whether England's bowlers feel the same way about Michael Clarke after watching him bat through the final day with North on Monday, is open to debate and they may or may not be pleased to hear that the Australian vice-captain is struggling with a side strain and is a slight doubt for Friday.

With or without Clarke, though, North is confident his side have what it takes to overturn their 1-0 deficit over the next two Test matches at Headingley and then at The Oval and that is thanks in no small part to his valiant last day efforts. "We know if we play our best cricket, we walk away winning Test matches against any opponent," he added.

"We can take a lot of character and momentum and fight out of the Edgbaston match and hopefully that can set us up for the remaining two Tests. We all knew [Monday] was going to be a tough day of Test cricket, one where the Australian team had to show some character and fight – and we did that.

"We saw England do that in the first Test. We went out then expecting to win and England showed character and fight on that day and got a draw. I firmly believe England went out [on Monday] believing they were going to win and we showed that fight and character and ground the game out.

"We lost nearly two days' play through rain in Birmingham and at the end we were four wickets down with a 200-odd run lead – and building on that. We played some very good cricket in this last Test."

Behind closed doors England would doubtless agree although there seemed to be little harmony between the two sides on the final day in Birmingham. For North that merely highlights the seriousness of what is up for grabs. "The banter is great," he said. "Both teams are playing extremely hard cricket. We are playing for the urn. It is great to have a bit of banter. It gets both teams up. It is entertaining for the crowd. It is about playing hard and if you can get an edge over your opposition with a bit of banter, that's great."

Reports yesterday suggested Australia's Ricky Ponting took his anger out on a dressing room door after his second innings dismissal. "Whenever any of us as batsmen get out, we don't like it," North said. "It just shows how important it is to us. When we have a Test match innings, we want to do well. You have to be disappointed when you get out."

Ashes statistics Numbers so far

Top 10 highest run scorers

Michael Clarke (Aus) 352

Andrew Strauss (Eng) 309

Simon Katich (Aus) 248

Marcus North (Aus) 239

Ricky Ponting (Aus) 233

Brad Haddin (Aus) 229

Paul Collingwood (Eng) 221

Matt Prior (Eng) 180

Andrew Flintoff (Eng) 171

Michael Hussey (Aus) 145

Highest individual scores

Andrew Strauss 161 (268 balls) (Lord's)

Ricky Ponting 150 (224) (Cardiff)

Michael Clarke 136 (227) (Lord's)

Marcus North 125* (242) (Cardiff)

Simon Katich 122 (261) (Cardiff)

Brad Haddin: 121 (151) (Cardiff)

Most wickets in the series

Ben Hilfenhaus (Aus) 13

James Anderson (Eng) 12

Nathan Hauritz (Aus) 10

Peter Siddle (Aus) 10

Mitchell Johnson (Aus) 10

Graham Onions (Eng) 8

Andrew Flintoff (Eng) 7

Stuart Broad (Eng) 6

Graham Swann (Eng) 6

Best innings bowling figures

James Anderson 5-80 (Edgbaston)

Andrew Flintoff 5-92 (Lord's)

Graham Onions 4-58 (Edgbaston)

Graham Swann 4-87 (Lord's)

Ben Hilfenhaus 4-103 (Lord's)

Nathan Hauritz 3-63 (Cardiff)

Mitchell Johnson 3-87 (Cardiff)

Peter Siddle 3-89 (Edgbaston)

Other facts

* Andrew Strauss and Michael Clarke have hit more boundaries over the first three Tests than any other player, with 42 apiece.

* If England win the next Test at Headingley, or draw the next and win at The Oval, it will be the first time in 23 years they have led 2-0 in an Ashes series.

* Andrew Strauss, now on 309 runs, was the first player from either side to reach 300 runs.