Flintoff due for match landmark
Andrew Flintoff’s return to international cricket this weekend ends a six-month wait for his 100th England one-day cap.
Flintoff, 28, was expected to win it in India earlier this year but was rested for the final matches of the limited-overs series in Jamshedpur and Indore.
Then the recurrence of his left ankle injury left him sidelined for England’s entire one-day programme this past summer, meaning he has yet to get his hands on the commemorative silver salver.
That will presented at the Sawai Mansingh stadium on Sunday as the ICC Champions Trophy - which coach Duncan Fletcher remains upbeat about winning despite recent form - finally kicks into gear against the host country.
This tournament is the first stop on England’s biggest journey for many a winter but rather than dismiss it as an inconvenience Fletcher believes turning the current optimism around the camp into wins would be a huge fillip for the Ashes and World Cup.
“We want to try to win this, we did very well last time, if we can do it again it will give us a bit of momentum going on.
“Everything to us is huge,” Fletcher said. “We are proud guys; and if you are proud just playing for your country is a huge moment.
“The Ashes series is going to be big but if we win this it will be similar.”
Flintoff was successful in his role up the order in the 144-run victory over a Rajasthan Cricket Association XI and is likely to remain in the top three, for the foreseeable future, as England seek the perfect start, and revenge for a 5-1 thrashing here in April.
“It was nice to see ‘Fred’, who hasn’t played for some time get those runs,” said Fletcher, of Flintoff’s half-century.
“It must have done him a world of good to come back and bat like that.
“We have to look at his position in the long term and short term and that is why it is not an easy decision where you can say that is it for now.
“There are possibilities it might change depending on how he feels as a bowler because we have to consider he is going to be a bowler as well.”
India showed the value in sending aggressive players up the order last winter and England are keen to reap similar rewards during the power-play periods.
“We tried (Geraint) Jones for a bit because it is crucial you use those 10 overs effectively and if they bring in a power play after 15 it is important you have someone who is capable of hitting it over the top and who can utilise the gaps in the field settings,” Fletcher said.
“It is not easy facing a swinging ball so to come up there you have to have a technique which is capable of doing it and that is not easy. And you have to have a fair run at it.”
England have also been formulating plans to score more heavily during the middle overs when the slow bowlers often come on to strangle the life out of the innings.
Only Kevin Pietersen prospered last time the side was on the sub-continent and Fletcher views England’s success, both when batting and bowling, as crucial.
“Spin will play a big part in this tournament and it is different to any other part of the world,” said Fletcher.
“It is interesting to see other teams struggle against the spinners because you can’t hit them as free and easily as you can in the UK.
“People seem to lose sight of the fact that when it is a seaming wicket it is all right for the fast bowlers to bowl well yet when it is a spinning wicket they are not allowed to bowl well and it is the batters’ problem.
“You have got to understand on spinning wickets it is difficult to score against spinners and we have to look at ways to score against them as effectively as we can.”
England’s new spin duo Jamie Dalrymple and Michael Yardy proved successes in an otherwise disappointing domestic summer during which the side lost seven one-dayers in a row against Sri Lanka and Pakistan, as well as Twenty20 contests to both.
The former England A pair have become important introductions to the side, bucking a trend of debutants struggling to make an impact on the limited-overs scene.
Meanwhile, Fletcher does not expect Flintoff to bowl in the early matches of the tournament.
The Lancashire all-rounder has been ‘around 70%’ in the nets as he builds up the strength in his left ankle.