Second shot at the captaincy for Flintoff

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The Independent Online

Andrew Strauss had only a glimpse of the England captaincy as Andrew Flintoff contemplated turning down the invitation to take over from the injured Michael Vaughan. After a period of deliberation and a chat with Vaughan and Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, Flintoff realised that the pride and honour of leading his country was too good an offer to refuse and Strauss was again overlooked.

"There has been no drama behind the scenes but I wanted to think about it," said Flintoff, explaining the reason for the delay in the announcement as England travelled from Hobart to Brisbane via Melbourne. "It didn't take me long once I had got my head round it. Obviously there are pros and cons but when captaining England, the pros are always going to outweigh the cons.

"I didn't expect the captaincy to come along after Michael came back and I just wanted to get things right in my mind before saying yes. You should not underestimate what a big job it is. It was offered to me during the afternoon when I sat and had a chat with Duncan Fletcher. I decided to take the job on because I am comfortable doing it, I seem to have found a bit of form on the field and I am proud to do it. You do not get many chances to captain your country and this time it is in a different form of the game.

"I am pleased with the way I am playing now and you do sit down and think is it too much? People are always wondering whether the captaincy has an effect on my game. There is a lot more going on in one-day cricket and as a captain you are doing a lot more and that was one of the things I had to get straight. But having thought about it I feel that it is something I can do. Nobody tried to talk me out of it." Flintoff's hesitation is understandable. The emphatic nature of the 5-0 Ashes whitewash, criticism of his captaincy and the fall-off in the all-rounder's form would have been enough to make anyone question their future in such a demanding and high-profile job.

Before then, England have to try to create a winning one-day formula during the Commonwealth Bank series. The victory over New Zealand in Tasmania gave the confidence of the side a huge boost but they now face the much stiffer task of defeating Australia in Brisbane tomorrow morning UK time.

Ricky Ponting, the Australian captain, is being rested for the match and England will replace Vaughan, who will be out for at least two to three weeks with a grade one tear to his left hamstring, with either the Lancashire batsman Malachy Loye or the Essex all-rounder Ravi Bopara.

As an opener, Loye would appear the natural replacement for Vaughan and he appears set to make his England debut. He has been playing for Auckland in New Zealand and has been in reasonable form.

"Mal Loye is a definite option for us," Flintoff said. "He opens the batting for Lancashire where he has been successful. I understand he has been scoring some runs in New Zealand, so I wouldn't have any worries about him coming in."

Loye, 34, is uncapped at international level but was named this week in England's preliminary 30-man squad for the World Cup. He is the second new player in a week to join England's one-day squad after Bopara replaced Kevin Pietersen.

Flintoff received support last night from England Test batsman Alastair Cook, who hit back at the critics who have questioned Flintoff's credentials to lead the side.

Cook said: "A lot of criticism has come Freddie's way after the Ashes, but I can't see why because it wasn't him who made us lose the series 5-0. We just didn't play as well as we should have done and that didn't help Freddie.

"In fact, it couldn't have been much harder for him but he was always leading from the front. As an inspirational player that he is, you couldn't have asked much more from him.

"I thought he did very well under huge pressure. Yes, we played badly but Australia didn't let us play well and it's wrong to put any sort of blame on Freddie.

"He's determined to put things right and there's no better chance than on Friday, both as a captain and as a player."