Flintoff fitness vital says Warne
The fitness of England all-rounder Andrew Flintoff could decide the Ashes, according to Australia legend Shane Warne.
Flintoff suffered no immediate ill effects when he returned to first-class action for Lancashire against Durham earlier this month, just over six weeks after surgery on a knee injury picked up playing for Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League.
But the 31-year-old, who was ruled out of the ICC World Twenty20 by the knee problem, is still in a race to return to full fitness in time for this summer’s series.
England begin their bid to regain the Ashes when the first Test gets under way in Cardiff on July 8.
Warne said: "I think Flintoff is one of the keys to the Ashes. It will be crucial to have Flintoff in the England squad.
"I still think they will have a chance without him, but with Flintoff in the squad it is much stronger. What he did in 2005 was pretty special."
Flintoff claimed 24 wickets and racked up 402 runs to inspire England to a 2-1 success four years ago.
Leg spinner Warne, who retired from international cricket with 708 career Test wickets to his name following Australia’s 5-0 series win over England in January 2007, believes the contribution of his former Hampshire team-mate Kevin Pietersen could also make or break England’s chances.
The South African-born batsman struggled earlier this summer with an Achilles injury and admitted recently he may not be able to play if the problem flared up again.
The 39-year-old added: "And I have to say Kevin Pietersen is really important as well. They need Pietersen for sure.
"Pietersen, Flintoff and (captain Andrew) Strauss are the guys (for the Australians to be wary of). I would like to have them playing for the Rajasthan Royals (Warne’s IPL team)."
Rajasthan take on English Twenty20 champions, the Middlesex Panthers, in a charity match in aid of the British Asian Trust at Lord’s on July 6.
The colourful character is one of just one of a handful of big-name Australians to have hung up their boots since the last Ashes.
Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist, Justin Langer and Damien Martyn have also all since called it a day, but Warne has faith in the new generation.
Asked who the stars of the upcoming series could be, he singled out three fellow countrymen without hesitation: "Peter Siddle, Nathan Hauritz and Phil Hughes."
Paceman Siddle, off-break bowler Hauritz and 20-year-old batsman Hughes, who has already excelled in English conditions during a brief spell with Middlesex, have just 14 Test caps between them.