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England banking on Freddie in the Ashes

CARDIFF, July 8 – England captain Andrew Strauss believes all-rounder Andrew Flintoff's chequered history against Australia will work in his side's favour when the first Ashes Test gets underway here Wednesday.ANDREW_FLINTOFFFlintoff was the star of England’s 2005 series win over their oldest foes but in 2006/07 he was captain when the team were thrashed 5-0 in Australia.

Even worse, it emerged later he had been sent away from training one morning on that tour because coach Duncan Fletcher believed him to be the worse for wear for drink.

The injury-plagued all-rounder returned to the squad just over a week ago following a knee problem but caused fresh embarrassment by missing the bus for a trip to World War I battlefield sites.

But Strauss played down the incident and told reporters here Tuesday: "Freddie has settled in brilliantly and is very motivated to play well.

It’s great to see him with the bit between his teeth – he feels as though he has some unfinished business."

While the likes of Strauss, Kevin Pietersen and Flintoff remain from the side that triumphed four years ago, at least five players – Ravi Bopara, Matt Prior, Graeme Swann, Stuart Broad and Graham Onions – could be making their Ashes debuts here at Sophia Gardens.

Since Strauss was thrust into the captaincy in January, after Pietersen’s falling out with then coach Peter Moores, England have lost a series in the Caribbean and beaten a poor West Indies team at home earlier this season.

Strauss, who has repeatedly emphasised the importance of keeping a cool head, told reporters here Tuesday: "It’s a great honour for me to captain England and if we are successful it will live with me forever. But now is not the time to get emotional.

"The key to the series is how you handle those pressure moments and there are going to be plenty of them."

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Strauss, turning to his team, added: "All 11 of them have shown before that they can handle those situations.

"An Ashes series is slightly different and we’ve only got probably half our team that have played in an Ashes series before.

"But the guys that have come in have an opportunity to show they can do it in an Ashes series and I’ve got very few concerns in my own head that there are any weak links.

He added: "We know the type of cricket we need to play against Australia: we need to go toe to toe with them and look them in the eye.

"They have lost a few players with a bit of aura about them.

"It might not be as intimidating as it used to be but we are ready for some hard cricket."

While Australia fast bowler Brett Lee has been ruled out of the first Test with a rib injury, England so far have no fitness problems.

Their major selection decision appears to be whether to go in with two spinners in Swann and Monty Panesar or leave one of them, most probably Panesar, out and instead opt for Onions as an additional seamer.

Strauss, who confirmed England would not name their side until Wednesday’s toss said he was not concerned by Panesar’s lacklustre county form in the build-up to this match.

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"Monty is a very good Test bowler," he said. "There is something about being back in the England fold that switches on a light for him. I am very happy with where he is."

Meanwhile, Strauss said they could not wait to get started.

"The guys are chomping at the bit to get out there and play now.

"We have to handle the pressure well and play well, and if we do that we have the raw material to win the Test match."



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