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Flintoff happy to return in Ashes ranks

The all-rounder said he would be happy to take the duty merely as a player and not as captain.

india Updated: Sep 12, 2006 20:55 IST

On the eve of England's Ashes squad announcement, star all-rounder Andrew Flintoff made it clear he would be happy to return to Test duty merely as a player and not as captain.

The only certainty as England prepare to reveal their party for the four of Australia at The Oval on Tuesday, a year to the day since they regained the Ashes at the south London ground, is that the captain's first name will be 'Andrew'.

Flintoff was in pole position when leading the side in the early part of the English season.

But ever since the end of the drawn Test series against Sri Lanka an ankle injury has kept the all-rounder, the hero of last year's Ashes, out of international cricket.

England, in Flintoff's absence, have been led by opening batsman and former Middlesex captain Andrew Strauss.

Strauss, after a 5-0 one-day series thrashing by Sri Lanka, led an injury-hit England side lacking several Ashes stars to a 3-0 Test series win over Pakistan, a result featuring last month's controversially forfeited fourth Test at The Oval, and a come-from-behind 2-2 drawn one-day encounter with Inzamam-ul-Haq's tourists concluded at Edgbaston on Sunday.

The current England skipper has made it clear he is happy to serve under Flintoff and on Monday the 'other Andrew' also did his best to shy away from suggestions of selfish personal ambition.

"If I get an opportunity to captain the side, it would be fantastic," Flintoff said. "I'd love to have a go but it's out of our control and Strauss has done a great job. As long as we win the Ashes, I'm not bothered."

Strauss too was equally keen to be seen to put the team first although, like Flintoff, it was quite clear he fancied having a crack at becoming the first England captain since his Middlesex predecessor Mike Gatting some 20 years ago to win a Test series in Australia.

"I'd love to do the job in Australia but it's for other people to decide."

Ashes-winning skipper Michael Vaughan's recurrence of a knee injury has long ruled him out of the defence of the urn.

Meanwhile the hopes of immediate successor Marcus Trescothick nosedived when he returned home early from the tour of India with a stress-related illness which has also forced him out of next month's Champions Trophy tournament.

England coach Duncan Fletcher has tried to make a virtue out of a dilemma by insisting the captaincy conundrum was a "great positive" for England.

"When Vaughan first took over we were wondering where the next captain was coming from and it was the same when Nasser (Hussain) was captain and we didn't know where the next captain was coming from.

"It's nice to see there are two candidates now even though I wish it was only one because then we wouldn't have had this difficult decision."

But with Fletcher one of the few constants in England's rise to second place in the world Test rankings since he took charge in 1999, there are some within English cricket who believe the choice of captain matters less now than it has ever done.

Optimists say that is because of Fletcher's tactical expertise.

Pessimists say that England's fitness doubts over the likes of Flintoff and fast bowler Stephen Harmison, not to mention the fact they are set to be without reverse-swing ace Simon Jones, a key figure in last year's Ashes, mean that it doesn't matter who the captain is as England are likely to lose the series come what may.

Fletcher is known to favour Strauss, although his fellow selectors - chairman David Graveney and former England off-spinner Geoff Miller - are believed to be Flintoff supporters.

"You would like it to be unanimous but that's why you have selectors," Fletcher told BBC Radio Five.

England are set to name a squad of 16 with five other players based at Hampshire coach Paul Terry's cricket academy in Perth.

Their last tour of Australia, in 2002/03, never recovered from the fact they arrived with several unfit players, including Flintoff, who then played little or no part in the Ashes.

Pacemen James Anderson (back) and Liam Plunkett (side) are both doubtful and that could open the way for promising one-day international fast bowler Stuart Broad to be called up despite being uncapped at Test level.

Left-arm spinner Monty Panesar and opening batsman Alastair Cook are just two of the young players who've shone during the past year for England although pitching Broad, 20, in for a debut in Australia would be something else.

Nevertheless, the omens are good. When England last won a series in Australia, in 1986/87, Broad's father Chris, an opening batsman, had a superb tour and back then England arrived with another uncapped 20-year-old Leicestershire seamer in Phil DeFreitas.

First Published: Sep 12, 2006 11:28 IST