Flintoff given final chance to bolster Test record

LONDON: Andrew Flintoff is to play the 79th and final Test of his career after being named in the England team to play Australia in the Ashes decider at the Oval here on Thursday.

Flintoff, whose career has been blighted by injuries, has decided his body can no longer stand the strain of the five-day format.

"I have had these injuries but I am grateful I have played in as many Tests as I have done," the 31-year-old Flintoff, who has recently been struggling with a right knee problem, said here on Tuesday.

It was that injury which saw the Lancashire all-rounder left out of the England side that lost the fourth Test by an innings and 80 runs as Australia levelled the series at 1-1.

Flintoff, the star of England's 2005 Ashes series win, has proved popular with fans ever since making his debut as a 20-year-old against South Africa back in 1998.

Bowling fast and hitting the ball a long way as Flintoff can, has always had an appeal to spectators who can only dream of playing in such a fashion if they ever had a chance to appear in a Test.

That was the case with Flintoff's illustrious England predecessor Ian Botham and Australia great Keith Miller, who delighted crowds all round the world in the years after World War II.

Compared with those two players and the outstanding all-rounder of the last 25 years, Imran Khan - who averaged 37.69 with the bat and 22.81 with the ball - Flintoff's average of 32 in both disciplines does not appear that impressive.

And while Imran, when Pakistan captain, saw his record improve to an even more praiseworthy 52.35 with the bat and 20.27 with the ball, there was no such marked change in Flintoff's figures when he was in charge of England, which included a 5-0 Ashes series loss in Australia in 2006/07.

So Flintoff has probably had occasionally great moments rather than been a truly great player.

However, England captain Andrew Strauss told reporters here at the Oval on Wednesday: "I don't believe you rate someone purely on their stats, you rate them on their contribution to team victories and to the game of cricket.

"And in those two senses 'Fred' has been a massive player for us. He's obviously a huge character as well and I don't think the bare stats do justice to the man.

"He's earned the right to be one of the best players I've seen in my generation and he's earned it because he has put in big performances at just the right time. Hopefully, he can do that once more and lead us to victory."