The England selectors surreptitiously named Andrew Flintoff as their Ashes captain yesterday when they invited Andrew Strauss to lead the side in next week's first Test against Pakistan. Strauss will captain England in a Test match for the first time at Lord's on 13 July, but his assignment is only temporary. Flintoff will take charge as soon as he has recovered from the ankle injury that kept him out of the recent NatWest one-day series.
Flintoff and Strauss would both make way for Michael Vaughan if the official England captain made a miraculous recovery from the knee injury that threatens his career, but the likelihood of this happening is extremely slim. Vaughan had surgery on his degenerative right knee on Monday and he is expected to be out for between four and six months, giving him little chance of being fit for 5 November, the day England leave for Australia.
"Andrew Flintoff will have his ankle re-assessed and we will have a clearer idea then of when he will be able to take over the captaincy," said David Graveney, the chairman of selectors. "We are fortunate to have a very capable deputy available in Andrew Strauss." The uncertainty surrounding Vaughan and his unavailability since the winter tour of Pakistan has had a debilitating effect on the England team. They have had four captains - Vaughan, Marcus Trescothick, Flintoff and Strauss - since regaining the Ashes in 2005, a period in which they have failed to win any of the six Test or one-day series they have played in.
Vaughan is a wonderful captain, as last summer's Ashes triumph highlighted. He is decisive, imaginative and bold. The status he holds within English cricket makes it impossible for another captain to step in and personalise the set-up.
I have always viewed Strauss, not Flintoff, as Vaughan's long-term successor and, even though he was captain during England's 5-0 one-day thumping by Sri Lanka, this sentiment has not changed. What people seem to forget is that England, with Flintoff as captain, lost four consecutive one-dayers in India three months ago before the big man took a well-deserved rest. It is not poor captaincy that is losing England one-day games of cricket, they are just not very good at it.
Yet, at the same time, I do believe the England selectors are right to make Flintoff captain while the spectre of Vaughan hangs over the side. England, as they were in India when injury tore the side apart, are once again in need of a larger than life figure to and inspire the side to greatness. If England are to have any chance of retaining the Ashes they will need Flintoff to be the colossus he was in 2005. He has made no secret of his desire to captain England and he is bound to be more motivated in Australia if he is captaining the team.
Strauss has never shunned responsibility and the England captaincy will get his full attention whilst Flintoff is away. But now is not the right time for him to take charge. Strauss is not the type of character who can walk in to a room and inspire all those around him. He has many worthy qualities and is respected by all those who know him. He is a thoughtful person who likes to sit down and plan thoroughly. It is the way he approaches his batting and it will be the way he captains. England, however, do not need these qualities now, but they will when Vaughan's reign officially comes to an end.
The last thing Strauss would want to become embroiled in is a leadership challenge with Flintoff, Britain's most popular sportsman. It is a confrontation he could not possibly win, and he is best off biding his time and accepting the situation.
Sri Lanka hit one-day world record
Sri Lanka's incredible one-day form this summer continued in Amstelveen yesterday when they posted a new world record total of 443 for 9 against the Netherlands.
Mahela Jayawardene's side, who beat England 5-0 in the recent NatWest Series, topped the 438 for 9 South Africa chased against Australia in Johannesburg three months ago. Tillekeratne Dilshan hit 117 not out, while Sanath Jayasuriya struck 157 off 104 balls, taking his tally past 300 in his last two innings after his 152 at Headingley on Saturday.
During their run-chase against England at the weekend, Sri Lanka had reached 324 for 2 off 37.3 overs - meaning South Africa's total could have been under threat had they been batting first.