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August 7, 2009

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England sweats over Flintoff

ENGLAND will not know whether Andrew Flintoff will be fit enough to play in the fourth Ashes test against Australia at Headingley today until the morning of the match, according to captain Andrew Strauss.

Flintoff, who announced last month he is retiring from test matches after the Ashes series because of an injury to his right knee, bowled gingerly in practice for 36 minutes yesterday.

Although Flintoff's opinion on whether he will be fit to play will be taken into account, the final decision will be taken by Strauss and coach Andy Flower.

"We have to take the player's point of view on board because he knows his body better than anyone," Strauss said yesterday. "We will also speak to the medical people but ultimately it's the decision by me and the coach.

"He did a fair amount of bowling today and he got the ball through but he didn't look like he was (bowling) at 100 per cent. It's not about what he did in the nets today but more about how much swelling there is on his knee the day after," Strauss said.

Flintoff, 31, was man of the match at Lord's for his bowling performance that helped give England a 1-0 lead it still holds in the five-match series. He was hoping to play all five tests before bowing out to play only limited-overs cricket because his body can no longer stand up to the rigors of the five-day format. If he does not make today's game, he will hope for a swansong test at The Oval on August 20.

The influential allrounder scored an explosive 74 from 79 balls in the third test that ended in a draw at Edgbaston on Monday, but he did not take a wicket from his 40 overs in the match, on a slow pitch that did not help his short, fast bowling.

Strauss acknowledged so much attention on Flintoff's fitness is "not ideal" while preparing for a match that could see England regain the Ashes if it wins.

He understands the importance of the player to the team, though, but says he won't allow sentiment about Flintoff's farewell to distract him from picking the right team. "It's not an ideal situation but that's the situation we are in and if he is fit we will desperately want him to play but if he is not fit to play it wouldn't be right for us to pick him," Strauss said.

Meanwhile, captain Ricky Ponting says Australia has the momentum going into the Headingley test. "The momentum has swung throughout the series and the way we batted in the second innings at Edgbaston has left a really positive feeling around our group," Ponting said yesterday.

Australia still had a few minor injury concerns, including in-form batsman Michael Clarke who did not train on Wednesday due to a stomach injury.

Wicketkeeper Brad Haddin missed the last test with a finger injury but Ponting said he might be fit to play at Headingley.


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