Strauss realistic over Flintoff fitness

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The Independent Online

Captain Andrew Strauss has insisted England's selection decision on Andrew Flintoff will not be an emotional one.

England all-rounder Flintoff's lingering knee injury means he is not certain to be fit for the penultimate match of the Ashes series at Headingley tomorrow.

Given his fairytale performances against Australia over the years - including the Lord's bowling display which put England 1-0 up a fortnight ago - it would be tempting to select Flintoff at even three-quarter capacity.

However, the hosts will only pick the 31-year-old, who has undergone several painkilling injections throughout this npower campaign and intensive ice treatment over the past 48 hours, if they are convinced he can retain his impact throughout a five-day match.

"It is the fourth Test of an Ashes series, we are close to the finishing line and although we are all desperate for him to play we need to be realistic enough to realise if he's not fit he shouldn't play," said Strauss.

"If he is fit then we are desperate for him to play. Judging whether he is fit or not comes down to a multitude of factors.

"It comes down to the medical team, obviously the player himself has a view on whether he feels fit enough to get through the game, and also a little bit from what myself and the coach see, have seen and what we expect to see during the course of the game.

"Of course Fred's view on it is an important one but it is not the only view we will listen to.

"The medical staff know his injury well, they know how it's likely to develop and their view on it is going to be very important.

"A lot of it will come down to a chat between myself and the medical staff and then a chat between myself and him.

"I am still optimistic at this stage he is going to be okay."

If Flintoff is not considered right for purpose then England could bolster the batting by introducing Jonathan Trott for a debut or recall one of pace bowlers Steve Harmison or Ryan Sidebottom to retain a five-man attack.

England head into tomorrow's match in the knowledge another win would secure the Ashes once again, following the historic summer of 2005.

Avoiding defeat from here on in would also wrest back the urn but Strauss is urging positivity.

"Coming here expecting a draw, or hoping there is going to be a draw, is the wrong way to go," he said. "That is not the way we are going to approach it.

"We are looking to win the game and in doing so win the Ashes. As always in an Ashes series, each match you get closer to the finish it becomes more dramatic and the pressure and expectation rises a level.

"It is a chance to force home our advantage and nail the series."

Should that happen, Ricky Ponting would become only the second Australia captain to lose two Ashes series here.

Should that happen, he might start getting cheered rather than booed, which has been a feature of the three matches to date.

It has even moved England and Wales Cricket Board chairman Giles Clarke to write in tomorrow's match programme: "It is natural for a supporter to hope that his side can dismiss the greatest batsman in the opposition for as low a score as possible.

"That, however, should not prevent one of the greatest batsmen, Ricky Ponting, receiving a generous welcome when he walks to the wicket."

Despite the pantomime jeering, which continued in Birmingham, Ponting did get a warm ovation after becoming the third highest scorer in Test history during Australia's first innings.

"We may not be fortunate enough to see another player of his stature," Clarke added. "And as such we should afford him the courtesy and respect his achievements demand."

But Strauss does not want any toning down to come at the expense of his own team.

"Shane Warne had it a little bit when he played last time and he took it pretty well," Strauss reflected.

"There is just a line you shouldn't cross and I think generally the crowd has been pretty well behaved.

"It is always a fantastic atmosphere here and the more supporters there are for us the better, to be honest."