Injured all-rounder Andrew Flintoff has brightened England's chances in the forthcoming Ashes series against Australia by announcing he will be fit for the tournament.
Flintoff has made a quick recovery from a knee operation and has revealed that he has suffered no ill-effects from strenuous bowling sessions over the past few days, adding he could return to playing for Lancashire against Durham by Friday.
"I've been bowling pretty much up to full steam and so far, so good," Flintoff was quoted as saying in The Times Thursday. "I am bang up to where I want to be at this stage and I have had no ill reaction. Not being fit for the Ashes is not an option."
Flintoff, who had surgery on the cartilage in his right right knee six weeks ago, completed his first two full training sessions at Old Trafford Sunday and did three more over the next two days.
Simon Timson, the ECB's head of sports science and medicine, visited the player with Mark Young, the England physiotherapist, as part of a routine checkup and said he was "pleased" with Flintoff's progress.
Should he fail to prove his fitness, a place in the team to face Hampshire next Wednesday would present a realistic target. That would give Flintoff the opportunity to play in two four-day matches and four Twenty20 games before the first Ashes Test in Cardiff July 8.
"Come Cardiff, I'll be available," Flintoff said. "For an English cricketer, the Ashes is the biggest thing."
Asked if England could win the series against Australia, Flintoff said: "Of course we can. It's going to be hard. The Australia team has changed a little bit as has England's. We'll be slight underdogs but we have the players who can pull it off."