Strauss pins England's hopes on Flintoff playing through the pain

All-rounder expected to be fit for Edgbaston – but he looks unlikely for fourth Test
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With the Ashes at stake, England are prepared to take Andrew Flintoff through hell. Since the warrior himself is willing to make a similar journey there are likely to be no arguments, although both parties must hope that going to Birmingham this week and Leeds next will be quite enough.

Andrew Strauss, the captain who kept Flintoff going through 10 magnificent, pain-filled overs as the side took a 1-0 lead in the series on the fifth morning at Lord's last week, said yesterday: "If we get to a winning situation and he is the right bowler to take us to victory, we will be expecting to see him put in a similar amount of effort."

Strauss will be eager to protect his key strike bowler, who is retiring from Test matches at the end of the series and has suddenly discovered the bowling form of his life. But Flintoff is also his go-to bowler for almost all match positions and he has only three matches, at most, to go to him.

"The reality is we enter a Test match with everyone 100 per cent fit to play otherwise they are not in the team in the first place," said Strauss, although that description can have applied neither to Flintoff nor Kevin Pietersen at Lord's. "As a captain I will be juggling the bowling attack depending on the match situation. But we don't want Fred bowling millions of overs when conditions aren't in his favour. It is important to look after him."

The odds about Flintoff making it for the third npower Test, which begins at Edgbaston on Thursday, are shortening all the time but nobody can be sure until he comes through a heavy practice session. By the end at Lord's he was operating on adrenalin, which disguised the pain in his knee.

"All the indications are that he will be fine," said Strauss, perhaps crossing his fingers. "We need to see how he goes the next couple of days in practice but at this stage we are very confident. I spoke to him the day after when we had a charity dinner. He felt his recovery had gone well. He won't bowl until tomorrow."

Flintoff and Dave Roberts, the Lancashire physiotherapist who has been responsible for the player's frequent rehabilitation and recovery in the past five years, saw each other over the weekend. The England medical team have also been kept informed of progress and Strauss said that everything they had heard so far had been quite positive.

Courageous and cussed though he is, Flintoff's anguish at Lord's, especially on Sunday night, was plain to see. Two days after the match there remained a discernible limp when he walked and the injury is simply not about to disappear. He must already be a considerable doubt for the fourth match at Headingley which begins three days after Edgbaston finishes.

"A lot depends on how much bowling he does this Test match," Strauss said. "But as he said, he is very keen to play in the remaining three Test matches. I think he'll be doing everything he can to make sure he's available for those. So far, it doesn't look like his knee has deteriorated, which is encouraging."

Strauss was speaking at yesterday's announcement of a new team sponsor for England. At the beginning of next year, the insurance company Brit, will possess the right to have their name emblazoned on the team shirt for four years. Brit, which already sponsors Surrey and, officially at least, lends its name to The Oval, replaces the mobile telephone company Vodafone, which have been part of England for 12 years.

The occasion was deemed important enough to break into the captain's last day off before the team gathers in Birmingham today. Apart from fielding Flintoff enquiries, it offered Strauss the opportunity to end speculation about where the recalled Ian Bell will bat.

It had been suggested that, with Ravi Bopara struggling, Bell would resume at three, the position from which he was dropped after the First Test against the West Indies in Kingston last February. But Bell will directly replace the injured Pietersen, who will miss the rest of the series, at four, where he has batted in 14 of his previous 83 Test innings, making two centuries.

"We're very clear on that," said Strauss. "Ian Bell will come in at four. It is the least possible disruption to the other members of the side. Belly got left out of the team and has had to work very hard to get his place back. He has done a huge amount of work, not just on the field but off it as well. He is very hungry and we are really excited to have him back in the side."

The Australians are pretty excited about it themselves if Ricky Ponting is to be believed, though perhaps for differing reasons. "I think Pietersen does leave a pretty big hole in their batting," the Australia captain told The Australian. "For us it will be a real positive. It probably puts a bit more pressure on Flintoff to perform. He has to stand up big time now. Now England has a much more sound, technically correct, but scratchy player like Bell. If we happen to get him in at the right time he's a pretty nervous sort of bloke as well."

What marvellous amateur psychology by Ponting, putting pressure not only on Bell because of Pietersen's absence but on Flintoff as well. Though he knows jolly well that Flintoff the bowler could do for Australia without Flintoff the batsman needing to stir.

Team Flintoff: The medics keeping Freddie fit

*Dave "Rooster" Roberts

Flintoff's personal physio has worked with many of Britain's leading sportsmen, including Ian Botham, for 20 years. Believes modern Test cricket is too demanding on fast bowlers.

*Nick Peirce

The England team doctor since 2006.

*Kirk Russell

The England physio is crucial in icing the knee to control swelling. Not the man who drew Ponting's venom at Cardiff. Steve McCaig, Russell's temporary replacement, was dispatched with medication and messages.

*Andy Williams

Orthopaedic surgeon who operated on Flintoff's knee meniscus.

*Huw Bevan

Former Ospreys rugby union coach, Bevan is in charge of strength and conditioning training for the team.

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