Freddie Flintoff insists he still has cricket focus

Published: Wednesday, May 24, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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Birmingham:England captain Andrew Flintoff has promised he will not let off-field pressures distract him as he continues to lead the side during the second Test against Sri Lanka here at Edgbaston.

The star all-rounder, captain in the ongoing absence through injury of Michael Vaughan, has become a hot commercial property since his exploits during England's Ashes winning campaign against Australia last year.

That has led to fears that his ancillary activities, including turning up at celebrity events and weekly appearances on a television show, could affect his on-field performance with Flintoff's former Lancashire and England coach David Lloyd the latest to express concerns.

But Flintoff, 26, insisted his growing fame wouldn't harm his cricket. "I'm a cricketer: I enjoy playing cricket. After my family, it's probably the most important thing in my life so I'm not going to lose my direction with what I'm doing, I'm not going to take my eye off the ball.

"Things off the field come around by performing on it. If that stops, there's nothing there," Flintoff also told reporters at Edgbaston here Wednesday, a day before the Test is due to start at the Birmingham ground.

Last year the Midlands venue hosted one of the most nailbiting contests in cricket history when England beat Australia by just two runs to win the second Test and so revived their Ashes hopes.

"It's gone down as one of the finest played," said Flintoff. "The England team at Edgbaston over the past few years has had quite a deal of success.

"It's a ground we enjoy playing on," said the Lancashire hero, who in 2004 scored a Test best 167 at Edgbaston against the West Indies.

"It was a fantastic effort but it (the Australia match) was a year ago and I'm not here to dwell on what happened in the Ashes last year," added Flintoff who led England in their drawn series opener against Sri Lanka at Lord's, a match where nine dropped catches cost his side the chance of victory.

"We've got a Test match against Sri Lanka starting here tomorrow (Thursday). We saw last week at Lord's that Sri Lanka are a talented, fighting side. Turning up tomorrow we can't be thinking about former glories, we've got to concentrate on the job in hand."

England still have uncapped seamer Jon Lewis in their side and they will have to decide whether to hand him a debut, possibly at the expense of left-arm spinner Monty Panesar, if conditions suit the Gloucestershire quick.

"I've not seen the wicket properly yet to be honest. I'll have a chat with the coach (Duncan Fletcher) and we'll make a decision later.

"The pitch will dictate the make-up of the side."

Meanwhile Flintoff said he was relishing the captaincy. "I'm enjoying it and I'm learning all the time."

England have won just one of their last eight Tests with injuries to key players such as Vaughan (knee) and fast bowlers Stephen Harmison (shin) and Simon Jones (knee) preventing them from fielding their strongest side in many of those games.

But the likes of Flintoff's Lancashire team-mate Sajid Mahmood, the fast bowler who made a lively Test debut at Lord's, have come in and the England captain said it was time to return to winning ways.

"We've had a few changes but the lads who've come in have performed well but now we need to start winning some Test matches."

In a bid to bolster an attack that only took six wickets at Lord's, the tourists could call-up Lasith Malinga, a 22-year-old fast bowler with a distinctive 'slingshot' action.

"I've never faced him," said Flintoff. "I've seen him bowl on a few occasions. He almost bowls from in front of the umpire. We'll watch video footage of him. We can't do anymore than that to be honest."

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