Port Elizabeth: Andrew Flintoff, the Lancashire all-rounder, could well act as a barometer of England's performance in the World Cup - if he plays well England will probably play well. But if not, or if he is forced home early through injury, it could be a short tournament for Nasser Hussain's men. Flintoff, 25, for all his talent, is not yet the proven international match-winner that many of his foreign contemporaries are. At 6 feet 4 inches tall, powerfully- built Flintoff's strength is his strength, which allows him to hit the ball vast distances when in form.
Similarly, his fast-medium bowling is based around him hitting the pitch and making life uncomfortable for the batsman. However, back problems have led to an open-chested action which can see him struggle with his line. Unfortunately, England's top order is not so strong it can afford to be philosophical about whether Flintoff's batting comes off. Consequently, there have been plenty of pleas encouraging Flintoff to play himself in for a few balls before going for his shots.
But keeping the score ticking over with quick singles is not something that comes naturally to Flintoff, no speedster between the wickets or in the outfield. Worryingly for England, he goes into this tournament having only recently recovered from a groin injury which saw him miss most of the Ashes series. While sidelined he was criticised by the then England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) chairman Ian MacLaurin for being lax in his training.
This followed on from thinly veiled complaints from within the England camp that he was too ill-disciplined and did not watch his weight closely enough. His One-day debut against Pakistan at Sharjah in 1998/99 where he made a fifty including two sixes showed what Flintoff could achieve. And his performances at domestic level - in 1999 he scored 143 off just 66 balls for Lancashire against Essex in a One-day league match - explain the high expectations that still surround him. Flintoff, like many before him, has been cursed with the unfair tag of the 'new Ian Botham'. But if he is not to become the latest England all-rounder to be lost in Botham's shadow he needs to turn in some match-winning efforts of his own. The World Cup would be a good place to start.