England's Strauss faces up to Flintoff call

LEEDS: England captain Andrew Strauss has insisted sentiment won't cloud his judgment if he has to break the unwelcome news to Andrew Flintoff that the all-rounder is not fit for the fourth Test.

England fans are desperate for Flintoff, the pace bowling hero of their side's second Test win at Lord's and their batting star of the drawn third Test at Edgbaston, to play when the fourth match of the Ashes series starts here at Headingley on Friday.

However, Flintoff has been troubled by a right knee injury which has already required several pain-killing injections and doubts remain over whether the 31-year-old can last the five days in Leeds in what he has said will be his final Test series.

"A lot of it will come down to a chat between myself and the medical staff and then a chat between myself and him and I think we will be able to gauge it pretty well," Strauss told reporters at Headingley here on Wednesday.

"I am still optimistic at this stage he is going to be okay."

But Strauss said he was ready to break bad news if required although England are not expected to make any decision on Flintoff public until the morning of the match.

"It is the fourth Test of an Ashes series, we are close to the finishing line and although we are all desperate for him to play we need to be realistic enough to realise if he's not fit he shouldn't play

"If he is fit then we are desperate for him to play. Judging whether he is fit or not comes down to a multitude of factors.

"It comes down to the medical team, obviously the player himself has a view on whether he feels fit enough to get through the game, and also a little bit from what myself and the coach see, have seen and what we expect to see during the course of the game.

"Of course Fred's view on it is an important one but it is not the only view we will listen to."

England have several options if Flintoff is unift.

The uncapped Jonathan Trott could be given a debut to stiffen the batting while either one of pace bowlers Stephen Harmison or Ryan Sidebottom could be recalled in a five-man attack.

Victory at Headingley would see England regain the Ashes they surrendered 5-0 in Australia in 2006/07 after their 2-1 series win on home soil in 2005.

And if they avoid defeat in either this match or the final Test at the Oval would also see them to a series win.

But Strauss said England could not afford to be negative. "Coming here expecting a draw, or hoping there is going to be a draw, is the wrong way to go," he said. "That is not the way we are going to approach it.

"We are looking to win the game and in doing so win the Ashes. As always in an Ashes series, each match you get closer to the finish it becomes more dramatic and the pressure and expectation rises a level.

"It is a chance to force home our advantage and nail the series."