Confident Flintoff ready for Ashes assault

Published: Wednesday, September 13, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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London: Restoring Andrew Flintoff as England captain for the forthcoming Ashes series against Australia has met with immediate general approval not least from the man entrusted with retaining the tiny urn.

Despite missing the second part of the season with an ankle injury which has required surgery, Flintoff is confident he was the man destined to toss the coin with Ricky Ponting at the Gabba in Brisbane on November 23.

''First and foremost I lead from the front,'' Flintoff told a news conference yesterday after confirmation that he would lead his country in their Ashes defence. ''I wouldn't ask somebody to do something I wouldn't do.

''I am very proud and every time I walk on to the pitch I give everything I can to the team. I feel I have got the respect of the lads and I respect them.'' Flintoff, indisputably the world's top all-rounder following South African Jacques Kallis's increasing reluctance to bowl, takes over from Andrew Strauss who showed increasing and impressive authority in a 3-0 series win over Pakistan.

Chairman of selectors David Graveney said the decision to return to Flintoff rather than continue with Strauss had come after several meetings with coach Duncan Fletcher and the third member of the selection committee, former England off-spinner Geoff Miller.

AUSTRALIAN FEAR ''I think that the Australians fear him,'' he told Sky Sports.Flintoff memorably rallied his side to square the three-test series against India in Mumbai this year through his own general excellence and the sheer force of his personality.

However, he then revived old doubts about the desirability of bowler-captains by sending down more than 50 overs in the second innings as England strove in vain to win the first test against Sri Lanka after dominating the first three days.

Flintoff wryly acknowledged yesterday that he taken too much on board in a heroic but futile effort which led directly to his present injury problems. But he failed to allay concerns that he will necessarily be able to play a full part in the England attack on unforgiving surfaces if his ankle plays up again.

England named six pace bowlers in their 16-man squad on Tuesday but only Matthew Hoggard and Sajid Mahmood are presently injury free.

INJURY PROBLEMS While Flintoff continues his rehabilitation programme, Steve Harmison is suffering from back problems and Liam Plunkett has been struggling with a side strain. James Anderson has been out for the season with a back problem.

Graveney outlined England's response to a problem which has blighted England's year when he said, the 14-man England National Academy squad, which will be based in Perth during the initial five weeks of the Ashes skirmish, was not so much a development group but a pool of reserves.

And he said the Champions Trophy next month would be welcomed as an opportunity to test the fitness of Flintoff and Harmison as well as left-arm spinner Ashley Giles who will travel to India to train with the squad.Yesterday's team announcement came in the Ashes suite at The Oval 12 months to the day when England so memorably reclaimed the tiny urn.

Memories of the greatest series ever, said Flintoff, would inspire England to replicate those performances in Australia.

''The carrot that has been dangled in front of us is huge,'' he said. ''The lads that were involved in that want to experience it all again and the lads that weren't want to play in it and want to be involved in it.

''We have to go over there confident, we can't have any fear of losing the Ashes. We have got to go out there and play as we did last summer, probably even better.''

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