Vaughan sets the maturing Flintoff his toughest test

Natwest Series Final: All-rounder has responded to extra responsibility to become essential part of England team against South Africa today
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The Independent Online

Michael Vaughan, England's one-day captain, believes today's NatWest Series final against South Africa is the perfect stage for Andrew Flintoff to show he can establish himself as one of the leading all-rounders in the world. Flintoff has been in sensational form with bat and ball during this summer's one-day international programme, but he is yet to crack the tougher format of the game - Test cricket.

Over the past month, the 25-year-old has confirmed himself as one of the world's leading one-day cricketers. In the nine limited-over games he has played for England this summer, Flintoff averages 39 with the bat and 19.5 with the ball, figures that any player would be proud of. In Test cricket, however, his statistics are almost reversed and he averages 19.5 with the bat and 47.5 with the ball, figures that would leave a player of lesser ability struggling to get another game.

"Andrew can definitely turn himself into a Test all-rounder," said Vaughan on the eve of his most important match in charge so far. "His bowling has been a huge asset to us in this form of the game. He has taken wickets and hopefully he can transfer this into the Test arena. As for his batting, he only has to continue to play in the same manner as he has this summer. There is no doubt that he can go on to score Test hundreds. He has just got to continue playing in exactly the same way and believe he can do it in the Test matches as well."

There are other England players - Marcus Trescothick, Chris Read and James Anderson to name but three - who have excelled during the 12 games Vaughan has overseen, but it is Flintoff who has made the greatest impact. For years he has failed to deliver the consistency of performance that a good side needs from its star player.

Flintoff's fitness record has not helped. During a miserable winter in Australia he failed to play a Test because of ongoing groin problems and his luck did not change this summer when he missed the opening two Tests after being hit on the shoulder by a beamer. Since then he has been injury-free and Vaughan believes this is the main reason for his success.

"Freddie obviously had a difficult winter with his injury and it is his return to full fitness that has helped him most," said Vaughan. "This is why we are seeing these results now. He is bowling as well as he ever has, and has taken on board the opportunity to bat at five. There is a big difference between batting at five and seven. At five you are a batter and there is a responsibility to get runs. He seems to have combined this with batting in his own way, which has been good for the team. It is always handy if you have a guy in the middle who can hit the boundaries."

Vaughan's style of captaincy appears to have helped because under his leadership Flintoff and the rest of the squad have been allowed greater freedom to express themselves than when Nasser Hussain is in charge.

"I am my own man and so is Nasser," said Vaughan. "I am a pretty relaxed character, and I try and relay that to the other guys. In front of big crowds and under a lot of media attention you have to try and make the team as relaxed as you can. Then hopefully they can enjoy these big occasions and the tense situations that go with them. It is difficult sometimes but if a young guy can go out there in front of 30,000 people and enjoy playing for England, I'm sure you will get more out of him."

It is not only Flintoff's power-hitting and aggressive bowling that South Africa need to come to terms with today if they are to gain a memorable victory. The prospect of playing at the home of cricket is a pressure that can bring out the best and worst in a player.

"For a lot of our guys this will be our first game at Lord's," said Graeme Smith, the South African captain. "Because of this we have a lot to take in. It is a fantastic ground and a little bit intimidating. It is bigger than I imagined. To overcome these things we intend to keep things simple. We have a game to win and will ponder over the occasion after the match."

England will wait until this morning before they make a decision on Richard Johnson, who is struggling to overcome the groin strain he picked up on Tuesday. Should Johnson fail to prove his fitness, James Troughton or Kabir Ali could well get a game when they least expected to. For South Africa, Nicky Boje is out with his broken leg, otherwise they will select from a full squad. A similar match to last year's final against India would be a perfect way for this series to finish.

England (from): M P Vaughan (captain), M E Trescothick, V S Solanki, A McGrath, A Flintoff, R Clarke, C M W Read (wkt), A F Giles, R L Johnson, D Gough, J M Anderson, Kabir Ali.

South Africa (from): G C Smith (captain), H H Gibbs, J H Kallis, J A Rudolph, A J Hall, M van Jaarsveld, M V Boucher (wkt), S M Pollock, P R Adams, A Nel, M Ntini, H H Dippenaar.

Umpires: N Mallender (Eng) and S Taufel (Aus).