Strauss 'encouraged' by Flintoff form

Andrew Flintoff is giving England all the right signs that he will be fit in mind and body for their attempt to snatch the Ashes away from Australia at the Brit Oval.

Captain Andrew Strauss has echoed the lynchpin all-rounder's own words, dispelling any notion of ill-feeling between them over the decision to leave Flintoff out of the fourth npower Test at Headingley because of concerns about his chronic knee injury.

Flintoff steamed in at Strauss and others in the nets yesterday, helping to convince the captain he is as ready as he could ever be to take the field tomorrow for what will be his last Test.

It could also yet turn out to be his and one of England's most famous if they can somehow sneak the series 2-1 and erase the unwanted memories of their embarrassing innings-and-80-run defeat at Leeds.

Strauss speaks of harmony, and great excitement, in the England camp - and will not hear of any discord with Flintoff.

"I've spoken to 'Fred' about the whole situation. We both know where each other stands on it - and it's just not an issue between us," Strauss insists.

"At this stage of a tour, maybe people try to create things out of nothing - from in our ranks, there is not an issue there at all."

That does not mean to say Strauss does not empathise with Flintoff over his omission from what was expected to be his penultimate Test before retiring - because of his injuries - next week.

"You can understand why he'd be disappointed," said the England captain.

"It's his last couple of Tests, so he's dying to play.

"I think he understood the situation in terms of what we needed from him.

"With the doctors' advice, we felt he wasn't going to be in a position to give us that for that Test match - on the back of a lot of bowling previous to that."

The bulletins this week have been conspicuously more optimistic.

Asked about Flintoff's well-being, Strauss reported: "It looks very promising.

"He's had some good time off; the swelling has gone down; we're happy with what he's done - things are looking pretty good.

"He got it through (in the nets) as he normally does. We're very encouraged by what we've seen so far.

"We are very confident we can get a performance out of him with both bat and ball.

"He's obviously a massive player for us. We're very fortunate to have a guy of that quality in our side - especially one that tends to 'up' his performances against Australia.

"Going into a must-win game like this, I'm far more comfortable as captain seeing his name on the team sheet."

Many casual observers may see the next five days as being predominantly about Flintoff.

Strauss acknowledges the romantic notion of a match-winning last hurrah for a world famous sportsman - but he knows too the Ashes are far bigger than the fortunes of one individual.

"We all want him to go out in a blaze of glory," Strauss confirmed.

"A lot of his scripts have been written that way so far in his career, and that would be a fitting end.

"But we want to win this game - for the country, for the coaches, for all the hard work we've put in as well as him.

"We know the country are desperate for us to do well - and I just struggle not to be very excited by what lies ahead this week.

"It's going to be a massive occasion and one, I hope, we'll treasure for the rest of our careers."

Like Flintoff, Strauss was in the rank and file when Michael Vaughan led England to their defining moment in 2005.

This time, it will fall to Strauss to attempt to mastermind victory from a more improbable position - and it will not be the least of his tasks to select the right XI from a squad of 14, in which England have tried to cover all bowling options.

"At this stage, all 14 have a chance of playing," Strauss said.

"But by the end of practice, we will be very clear in our minds on which XI should take part."

That decision will depend, of course, on the continued good health of Flintoff and others - as well as the Oval pitch, which has yielded thousands of runs to very few wickets this summer.

"I'd like to see what the wicket looks like again today," Strauss added.

"It's a pretty dry wicket. At the moment, it looks like a belter, a great one to bat on.

"But there's always a chance it's going to deteriorate in the back end of the game - in which case two spinners is definitely an option."

Whoever gets the nod can be in no doubt about the high stakes involved.

Just to be sure, though, Strauss spelled out: "From the situation we are in now, it will be a great achievement to turn it round and to win here this week.

"If we were to do it, we'd sit down and be very proud of ourselves."

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