england gamble on flintoff

BIRMINGHAM - England head into the third Ashes Test at Edgbaston today confident of all-rounder Andrew Flintoff's fitness but without Kevin Pietersen against an Australia side looking to level the series at 1-1.

BIRMINGHAM - England head into the third Ashes Test at Edgbaston today confident of all-rounder Andrew Flintoff's fitness but without Kevin Pietersen against an Australia side looking to level the series at 1-1.

Flintoff's aggressive spell on the final day of the second Test sealed England's 115-run win - their first over Australia in an Ashes match at Lord's for 75 years.

But soon after that match, batting star Pietersen gave in to a long-standing Achilles problem and announced he would take no further part in the series.

Injury-prone Flintoff said before the match at Lord's that this would be his final Test series.

A key figure during his country's 2005 Ashes triumph, and in particular at Edgbaston where England won by just two runs, doubts persist over whether Flintoff's knee injury will hold up for the final three matches of the series.

In practice, Strauss will be prepared to use Flintoff as and when appropriate.

"We don't want Fred bowling millions of overs when conditions are not in his favour," Strauss said.

Flintoff himself has been sleeping with a special compression machine on his troublesome joint and Australia vice-captain Michael Clarke was not surprised that England were pulling out all the stops to get him on the field. "Andrew Flintoff is an amazing player," said Clarke. "He is always up for the big contests. He seems to perform under pressure and no doubt he will be ready on Thursday to give us more stick."

There were worrying echoes for England when Ian Bell, drafted in to replace Pietersen, turned his right ankle in a warm-up on Monday. He was seen on Tuesday on the outfield at his Warwickshire home ground in full batting kit in what appeared to be a test of his ankle's ability to respond to the strain of running between wickets. England's squad lacks a spare batsman after the selectors made it clear that Bell was their man to replace Pietersen.

Bell, a veteran of 46 Tests, has missed England's last eight Tests after being dropped in the Caribbean and his average against Australia is a modest 25 from 10 Tests. Clarke said Australia had been given a lift by Pietersen's absence.

Ashes holders Australia are again set to be without fast bowler Brett Lee because of the side injury that ruled him out of the first two Tests.

That wouldn't be an issue if left-arm quick Mitchell Johnson wasn't struggling so much for line and length. - Sapa-AFP

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