LONDON // Andrew Flintoff will have the opportunity to fulfil his destiny after being declared fit for the fifth and final Test at the Oval. The 31-year-old, who missed England's humiliating innings and 80-run defeat by Australia at Headingley, will return to action after the swelling surrounding his troublesome knee injury subsided.
Flintoff will bring down the curtain on his illustrious Test match career in London at the conclusion of the series and is desperate to bow out at the very top. Following discussions between Flintoff's personal physio, Dave Roberts, his surgeon Andy Williams and the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) chief medical officer, Nick Peirce, the decision to make the player available for selection was taken.
An ECB statement said: "Andrew Flintoff's right-knee injury was reviewed by his specialist in conjunction with the ECB and Lancashire medical teams. The advice received was that the swelling in his knee has significantly eased following the decision by the England management team to rest him from the last Test and that subject to further rest and intensive treatment, he will be available for selection at The Oval."
The news will come as a welcome relief to the England captain Andrew Strauss, who will now have his talisman available for the most important game of his tenure. England's abject performance is likely to see a number of players dropped for the Oval Test with Ravi Bopara, Steve Harmison and Ian Bell all under threat. Meanwhile, Kevin Pietersen has suffered a setback in his recovery from the Achilles' tendon injury which ended his involvement in the Ashes.
Pietersen is now back in hospital after doctors discovered an infection of the scar tissue that is hindering the healing process. The Australia bowler Mitchell Johnson was also relieved to find form in the nick of time after an initial struggle, where calls to drop him grew louder by the day. With 16 wickets in the series so far, Johnson has now four wickets more than any England bowler. He admitted he was under severe pressure but a few tips from Michael Clarke and a round of sledging helped change things.
"It was more of a mental thing for me. Definitely, the head dropped in the first few Tests and I was not getting in the contest. "And copping it from an English crowd, I probably didn't know how to deal with it at the time. It's probably the most I've copped. I've definitely learned from that," Johnson said. At Headingley, several verbal bouts with England all-rounder Stuart Broad and tail-ender James Anderson perked him up.
"It did help me get up, puff the chest out a bit. I don't normally say too much. Maybe it was a bit of a surprise to those guys for me to say something. It felt good to do it and I'll continue to do it." Johnson also had his vice-captain Clarke to thank for making his bowling blues disappear. "During that Lord's Test, I can remember pretty clearly I was thinking about wrist position, front-arm pull down, I was thinking about running in, everything I could," Johnson recalled.
"Edgbaston was totally different. I just ran in, didn't worry about it. "Michael Clarke said to me in the practice game [against Northamptonshire], 'just run in and bowl fast mate, that's what you do best'. "That's what I've been trying to do, run in, hit my areas and not worry about technical stuff." * With agencies