Skipper ~~Freddie Flint~~ issues Ashes warning

Published: Saturday, October 7, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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London:England captain Andrew Flintoff has warned his players they will have to produce the form of their lives to retain the Ashes.

Flintoff leads England's defence of the Ashes in Australia from next month and he is under no illusions about the size of the task.

Under Michael Vaughan's leadership, England won the famous old urn for the first time in 16 years in 2005.

But injuries have taken their toll with swing bowler Simon Jones, who starred during last year's triumph, ruled out while Vaughan and spinner Ashley Giles have yet to fully recover from long-term injuries.

Giles hopes to be fit in time to feature in the first Test in Brisbane but Vaughan has not been named in the squad as he is still recovering from a knee injury, although he hopes to return for the final two Tests.

With Australia desperate to regain the Ashes and in impressive form since that defeat in England, Flintoff knows his reshaped side will get a stern examination of their determination to hold onto the crown.

He said: "We aren't going to kid ourselves. It's going to be hard playing against the best side in the world on their patch.

"We've got to be realistic. To win we are going to have to play even better than we did in 2005.

"But it's not something we should fear. It should be something that excites us. It's something that excites me to have a chance to play in that series.

"It would be amazing to come back home having retained the Ashes."

If England are to retain the Ashes, then Stephen Harmison is certain to play a key role.

At his best, Durham paceman Harmison is capable of rattling the world's leading batsmen.

Flintoff is confident the bowler can recapture the form that earned him the nickname 'grievous bodly Harmison'.

He said: "On his day 'Harmy' is the best bowler in the world.

"I've spent a bit of time with him over the last few weeks. He's been training and working hard at his fitness.

"He finished the season injured but seems to be over that now. Like the rest of us he just wants to get on the field and start playing."

Flintoff knows he faces another major challenge before he can concentrate on the Ashes as his side prepare to compete for the Champions Trophy in India which starts on Saturday.

England have been drawn in a group with the hosts, as well as Australia and one as yet to be decided qualifier and Flintoff hopes the bi-annual tournament will serve as useful practive ahead of next year's World Cup in the West Indies.

England's one-day form in recent years has been poor and they have won just six of their last 26 limited overs matches, including a 5-0 thrashing by Sri Lanka earlier this year.

But Flintoff, who is only just returning to fitness after ankle surgery and may not bowl in India as he eases himself back to action, expects an improvement on that dismal form in the Champions Trophy.

He said: "I can't wait to get started. It's going to be tough because we are in a group with Australia and India.

"But it's a chance for us to perform against two of the best teams in the world and that's an exciting challenge to look forward to.

"I thought the one-day side showed a great effort to come back from 2-0 down and share the series against Pakistan recently. That showed signs of improvement.

"Over the next few weeks it is a great opportunity for the lads to stake a claim for the World Cup.

"The one thing we need to work on is our consistency. Through periods of times we have showed we can play well in one-day cricket.

"We have proved we can compete with the best sides in the world and we've beaten the best sides in the world. It's just doing it over a longer period of time."


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