|Player:||A Flintoff, MP Vaughan, AJ Strauss, SR Waugh, IT Botham, B Lee|
DateLine: 21st November 2006
No one played a bigger role with bat or ball in ensuring England regained the Ashes last year than Andrew Flintoff. Now, not content with leaning on the pace-bowling all-rounder for runs and wickets, England have decided the Lancashire hero is the man to captain the side as they chase their first Test series win in Australia for 20 years. Making your leading man captain can be fraught with danger especially when, as in Flintoff's case, the player is returning from left ankle surgery. One feature of England's 2005 success was the calm leadership of then skipper Michael Vaughan. But the Yorkshire batsman's knee problems mean he is unable to lead the team in the return campaign. So now Flintoff must be his own guide on the field in making sure he doesn't overbowl himself - or just as bad potentially underbowl himself - while ensuring his batting and slip fielding are also given sufficient attention. "I'm sure there will be demands on me," said Flintoff after he'd been named captain for the Champions Trophy and the Ashes in preference to opening batsman Andrew Strauss, who led England at home during their talisman's enforced absence. "There is a lot of responsibility that goes with the job and that is something I'm aware of. But the one thing I concentrate on is playing cricket. Everything outside of that is pretty much out of my control. The one thing I can control is on the pitch. Everything else I will take in my stride." Former Australia captain Steve Waugh was in no doubt about Flintoff's suitability for the job. "The players respect him and one of the most important things is that he wants to do the job," said Waugh. "He's an inspirational player, he's a great all-rounder and I have no doubt he'll be leading them with the idea they're here to fight. I know they'll follow him into battle. And one thing about this England team is they are coming to Australia to win, not just with the aim to compete, which a lot of their teams have done in the past." Like his hero Ian Botham, Flintoff will compete until he drops. But when the match is over his sportsmanship is often evident, nowhere more so than at last year's Edgbaston Test when, after England had won by a mere two runs, he placed a consoling arm round the shoulder of not out Australia batsman Brett Lee. Flintoff starts with a huge advantage over some previous England captains in that no one can question he is worth a place in the team, his appointment as skipper more in the traditional 'Australian' than 'English' style. The 28-year-old Flintoff's place in English cricket folklore was sealed by a series of superb displays that saw him score 402 runs and 24 wickets. A natural to be a crowd hero because he plays cricket the way most fans dream about playing it - be it his 90mph reverse-swing bowling or hard-hitting batting - those who have known since his early days at Lancashire also speak admiringly of his 'cricket brain'. Earlier this year, thrust into the leadership because of Vaughan's injury, he led an inexperienced to a highly creditable Test series draw in India. But against Sri Lanka at Lord's in May he bowled himself for a marathon 51 overs in the second innings as England saw what had seemed a likely win evaporate into a draw.