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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Cricket:England hope Flintoff will be fit


England coach Andy Flower is hopeful all-rounder Andrew Flintoff will be fit to play in the fourth Ashes Test, which starts at Headingley on Friday.
Flintoff has relied on injections in his right knee in the last two Tests and was clearly hampered during the drawn third Test at Edgbaston.
"He is determined to play but he and the experts can make a considered decision," said Flower.
England, who lead the series 1-0, name their squad at 1400 BST on Tuesday.
Flintoff is certain to be included but with only three days between Monday's drawn contest at Edgbaston and the penultimate match of the campaign at Headingley, he will spend the time resting and putting ice on his knee.
Flower conceded after the Edgbaston Test that Flintoff "looked a little sore in that final session".
The 31-year-old Lancashire all-rounder was England's match-winner with the ball at Lord's, a result that gave the hosts the advantage in the series, and he enjoyed a return to form with the bat in Birmingham.
We've had to play without Flintoff plenty of times over the last two years so it wouldn't be anything new to us
England captain Andrew Strauss
He could not follow his 74 with a single wicket, however, as Australia closed out the final day on 375-5, thanks to Michael Clarke's 12th Test ton.
Flintoff bowled only 11 overs and none in the final session and laboured somewhat in the field.
However, England captain Andrew Strauss said he was "optimistic" Flintoff would be available for Headingley.
"There is obviously some soreness there but I don't think there's anything that has deteriorated massively over the course of the game," stated Strauss.
"He needs to rest up well because back-to-back Tests are hard for any bowlers and we'll see how he is on Thursday.
"We want to play our best team in every game we play but we've got to be conscious that if he's not fit enough to do his job then he won't play. "We've had to play without him plenty of times over the last two years so it wouldn't be anything new to us.
"Generally the bowlers have stepped up when he hasn't played but at the moment he's in great nick with both ball and bat so we don't want to play without him, if we can help it."
If Flintoff is unable to play, then Durham paceman Steve Harmison, who has taken 46 first-class wickets this season, is likely to replace him.
Harmison, who took 3-68 to wrap up a win for Durham against Sussex in the County Championship on Monday, has blistered feet but Durham coach Geoff Cook said he should be ready if England need him.
"Bowler's feet are never pretty at the best of the times but Steve has bowled a lot of overs for us this season and during this game he really struggled, they just gave way," added Cook.
"But he's got four days to heal and it's a fast bowler's lot to battle away with bad knees and ankles and shins and feet. I'm sure he's used to it."
If Flintoff is sidelined then Stuart Broad, who has taken only six wickets from three Ashes Tests so far, will probably retain his place because he provides extra batting strength down the order.
However, if Flintoff declares himself fit, then Harmison could come in for Broad, although Broad's Nottinghamshire team-mate Ryan Sidebottom may also be considered.
Sidebottom, who has played 21 Tests for England and taken 77 wickets, recently took a five-wicket haul at Taunton, traditionally a fast bowler's graveyard.
And with Headingley traditionally favouring swing rather than bounce, left-arm seamer Sidebottom would appear to be an ideal fit.
Australia have selectorial dilemmas of their own, not least whether or not to risk paceman Brett Lee, who has missed the first three Tests with a side strain.
On Sunday, Lee declared himself "80-85%" fit but the New South Wales man, who has 310 Test scalps, does not have a chance to prove himself before Friday and the selectors may consider him to be too much of a gamble.
Stuart Clark, chief tormentor of England in the 2006-07 Ashes series, which Australia won 5-0, could come in for Peter Siddle, with Mitchell Johnson likely to keep his place, despite an inconsistent series so far.

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