Steady is right said Freddie

Andrew Flintoff

Andrew Flintoff is due to bat at three © Getty Images

Andrew Flintoff has challenged his England side to hold their nerve in the intense atmosphere of a pre-Ashes clash with Australia on Saturday.

The Group A contest at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium is the first of many meetings between cricket’s greatest foes this winter and will allow one of them to land an early blow ahead of the main event.

And Flintoff appears happy for England to take the underdogs tag into what is a must-win ICC Champions Trophy game for both teams - whoever loses is almost certainly out of the competition.

“It is about who can hold their nerve tomorrow,” said England captain Flintoff. “We have to concentrate on what we do and go in confident, expecting to play well and see what happens.

“Playing against the Aussies is tough competition and we are going to have to be on our mettle to compete with them.

“I am looking forward to playing again, we enjoy playing against Australia and testing ourselves against the best players in the world.

Andrew Flintoff

England captain Andrew Flintoff will lead from the front

“We have got some guys who have never played against them before and they will go out there trying to impress.”

Flintoff is one who has shown a disregard for Australia’s reputation in recent years, producing his best-ever series return in the 2005 Ashes win when his 403 runs and 24 wickets were integral to the 2-1 victory by Michael Vaughan’s men.

It was the zenith of the 28-year-old’s career to date and such was the impact of his performances that he may retain the International Cricket Council’s player of the year award - which he currently holds jointly with Jacques Kallis - on the back of it.

“I took some confidence out of playing Australia last time, of course I did,” said Flintoff. “I am now comfortable with my game.

“Over the past few years I feel I have improved, I have a technique and method in which I trust.

“I took heart from the Ashes and then playing against India in India last time; I feel I have improved and I am a more confident cricketer than I was three years ago.”

Indeed Flintoff’s talismanic displays inspired England to a drawn Test series on the subcontinent earlier in the year, and laid his own claim to the captaincy.

Andew Flintoff

Andrew Flintoff takes control © Getty Images

Saturday’s match, however, will be his first leadership experience against the Australians.

“Every time I have done it I have done it with pride,” Flintoff said, of the captaincy. “I was proud to do it in India the first time I got the chance and proud against Sri Lanka in England.

“Doing it against Australia is something I am looking forward to doing. Whenever you captain your country, whatever country you are playing, it is a proud moment.”

While England have been camped in Jaipur for the past 11 days, Australia only arrived on Thursday night, following defeat to West Indies in Mumbai, and their early morning practice ON Friday was delayed by overnight rain.

Their preparations have been somewhat rushed and England also have a further advantage as they will be playing on the same surface on which they lost a low-scoring contest to India by four wickets last weekend.

The two-paced nature of the pitch should mean another relatively low-scoring affair and perhaps the kind of contest witnessed during 2005 when the NatWest Series was shared due to a tied final at Lord’s.

Flintoff has experience of triumphing in close encounters in India, most famously when his last-over wicket in Mumbai in 2002 sealed a five-run victory, a 3-3 draw, and sparked a jubilant shirt-twirling celebration.

“It was 10 seconds of madness,” reflected Flintoff. “The series hinged on the final over, there was a lot of emotion and the release of that emotion was taking my shirt off and winging it around.

“I took some stick in the dressing room for it, not just for my white body but a few tyres around the belly so it is not something I will be doing again.”

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