England v Australia, 4th Test, Headingley
Flintoff struggles put Harmison on alertMatch Facts
Friday, 07 Aug 2009
|Australia Vs England|
Venue :4th Test Match, Headingley, Leeds
August 6, 2009
Andrew Flintoff appears ever more likely to miss out on selection for tomorrow's fourth Test at Headingley, after struggling visibly during a 40-minute nets session on the eve of the match. Flintoff received two injections in his damaged right knee ahead of the Edgbaston Test last week, and so cannot undergo any more this week on medical advice. He bowled with a heavy knee brace, but was unable to hit the crease with any of his customary pace and power, before returning to the dressing room at 11.10am.
The session was the first time that Flintoff had bowled since his lacklustre display on the final day at Edgbaston, in which he bowled just 11 overs, and none at all in the final session. England have insisted they will take the emotion out of the decision over whether Flintoff plays in what could be the Ashes-deciding Test, but on the available evidence his knee is some way short of the requisite fitness to last for five days.
When asked if Flintoff was in a better situation fitness-wise than he had been in the lead-up to Edgbaston, England's captain, Andrew Strauss, was non-committal. "He did a fair amount of bowling today, but with such things it's not about the pain he experienced while he's bowling, but the swelling there is afterwards, and how sore it is," he said. "At this stage it's hard to know, because I haven't had a chance to speak to him fully.
"He got the ball through but he didn't look like he was 100%," Strauss conceded. "Sometimes a bowler doesn't want to hit 100% in the day before a game, and so it was more about how he was feeling with his knee, but until I've spoken to him at length, it's hard to say. I'm still optimistic he will be fine to play, but we won't know until later on this evening."
The hosts have a 14-man squad and a 1-0 lead, and are adamant that they will delay their decision as long as necessary, even if that leads to uncertainty among the players on the fringes of selection. "In situations like this you tell people to prepare to play, and if they don't, then at least they've prepared," said Strauss. "It's not an ideal situation, but that is the situation we're in. If he's fit enough to play a full part we desperately want him to play. If he's not then it's wrong of us to pick him."
Either way, Strauss said Flintoff would not be permitted the final say in his own selection. "It will be my decision ultimately," he said. "You've got to take the player's point of view on board and listen to that very carefully, because he knows his body better than anyone. You've got to take the medical opinion on board as well, because they've got an idea of what might happen if he plays. But ultimately it's a decision for myself and the coach. We won't know that until later today until we see how he reacts to what he did today in the nets."
"We're going to have to [take the emotion out]," Strauss said. "It's the fourth Test of an Ashes series, we're close to the finish line and although we're all desperate for him to play, we need to be realistic enough to realise that if he's not fit then he shouldn't play.
"When you're captain, you're motivated by what's good for the team, and obviously if him playing has a detrimental effect on the team, then it's wrong to make that decision on sentimental grounds. Fred would appreciate that. The last thing he wants to happen is to play and not be able to fulfil a role in the game. That's a pretty bad situation to be in as an individual. I'm sure he'll be honest with us, and sentimentality is pushed to the back of all our minds really."
Flintoff was England's main man on the final day at Lord's when he took five wickets to guide them to victory, but his discomfort seemed to increase as the third Test wore on. He scored a muscular 74 in the side's only innings at Edgbaston and did not make a breakthrough in 30 overs.
England's inflated outfit includes the batsman Jonathan Trott and bowlers Ryan Sidebottom and Steve Harmison, whose chances of playing improve considerably if Flintoff is ruled out, a fact that he seemed to recognise as he tore in with venom at Ravi Bopara in the nets, in full view of his captain. "We've covered all bases with the squad we've picked," Strauss said. "We will have to wait to see how Fred is. In a way there are potentially hard decisions to make."
"Harmison is a genuine option to play in this Test match," said Strauss. "It's fantastic to have a squad where you've got guys of that quality waiting to get in. Ryan Sidebottom bowled magnificently today as well. There's been a lot of cases in the past where we've been struggling to get three decent seamers on the park, and suddenly we've got five or six of them queueing up to play. That's a pretty good situation rather than a bad one."
By early next week Strauss could be an Ashes-winning captain and he told his players they would have to deal with the extra demands at Headingley. They will not be employing a cautious approach even though the pitch at The Oval, the venue for the final match, is likely to favour another stalemate.
"Coming here expecting there to be a draw, or hoping to be a draw, is the wrong way to go," he said. "It's not the way we're looking to approach it, we're looking to win the game and in doing so win the Ashes. It's a massive Test and, as always is the case in an Ashes series, the closer you get to the finish, it becomes more dramatic and the pressure and expectation rise a level."