Andrew Strauss remains "very confident" that Andrew Flintoff will be fit to play in Friday's fourth Ashes Test, despite the fast bowler struggling through yesterday's stalemate at Edgbaston and often looking like a man in need of a rest.
Flintoff bowled only 11 overs on the final day as Australia – in trouble at 161 for four before lunch – batted on and on to reach 375 for five before the two teams shook hands on a draw. By that stage Ricky Ponting's team were ahead by 262 runs with fewer than 14 overs remaining. Ponting later suggested that Flintoff "visibly went downhill pretty quickly through the course of the game". The all-rounder, who bowled England to victory at Lord's and is determined to play in the final two matches of the series before retiring from Test cricket, is under constant treatment for a knee injury.
"He seems OK," insisted Strauss. "It was one of those situations towards the end where I'm conscious there is no point in tearing him to death when there's not a lot going on. But I think he is doing OK and we are still very confident he will be OK for Headingley.
"There is obviously some soreness but I don't think anything has deteriorated massively. He needs to rest up well because back-to-back Tests are hard for any bowler. Then we will see how he is on Thursday."
Flintoff, who has had injections between Tests to keep him going, insisted on Sunday night that it would take something "pretty serious" to force him out of the action at Headingley. And with England still one up, he knows that a victory in Leeds will see the Ashes regained with a match to spare.
"If he's not fit enough to do the job he won't play," Strauss stressed. "But if he is fit we want to play him [rather than let Flintoff rest for a fortnight and then return for the final match of the series at The Oval]. The Headingley Test is a massive Test – if we win there then we win the Ashes."
Flintoff not only looked increasingly sore at Edgbaston but he also walked away without a single wicket – having taken five during Australia's second innings at Lord's.
"He will be assessed this week and he knows what to do with the injury but the key is how sore he is on Thursday. Fred has to be honest about his body and he has been so far."
Although Flintoff missed out with the ball at Edgbaston, he did score a half-century. England, though, can make plans to replace his runs far more easily than they can find another bowler with match-winning potential. So could they still beat Australia without the 31-year-old?
"Yes, I think we can," said Strauss. "We've had to do without him plenty of times over the last couple of years so it wouldn't be anything new to us – and generally the other bowlers have stepped up. But at the moment he is in good nick with ball and bat so we don't want to play without him if we can help it."
Ponting is unsure whether Flintoff will be present at Headingley. "The injury is probably starting to take a bit more effect than we realised," he said. "But we'll prepare for the next game as if he is going to play.
"He was their best bowler at Lord's and conditions here probably didn't suit him as much. But he batted pretty well and being without him and Kevin Pietersen would leave two big gaps in their team."
Strauss admitted that England were bullish yesterday morning about their chances of going 2-0 up at Edgbaston. "We came to the ground optimistic that we might be able to force a result, so it's a little bit of a let-down," he said. "But the conditions didn't help us like we thought they would and the ball didn't swing.
"But there are still a huge number of positives to come out of the game and for three days we were on top of Australia again."
England's last hope of success yesterday came when Strauss dropped Michael Clarke on 38 in mid-afternoon off the bowling of Ravi Bopara. Clarke went on to hit an unbeaten century – his second hundred of the series – and he shared in a match-saving stand of 185 with Marcus North.
"If I'd caught that you never know but we were getting to last throw of the dice time," said Strauss.
As for Ponting, he could not have been much happier with how the game finished. "We probably did a bit better than just hang on grimly," he said. "I think we played really well [yesterday]. Being one down with two to play is not that usual for us but we generally play our best cricket in adversity."