TAUNTON // The South African captain Graeme Smith has admitted a fit and firing Andrew Flintoff will inspire the other England players and their supporters in the forthcoming Test series. Flintoff is easing his way back into action after his well-documented ankle problems with Lancashire in the Twenty20 Cup and the current LV County Championship match with Sussex at Hove. It remains to be seen whether the selectors deem the all-rounder has had sufficient form or fitness to face the Proteas in the opening match at Lord's on July 10.
But Smith knows Flintoff's presence could make the difference as his side look to win a series in England for the first time since they returned to the international fold in the mid-1990s. "We all know about Fred's [Flintoff] performances with the ball when he is fit. You only have to look at the Ashes series here a few years ago and the role he played in that," he said. "I think he is a character who really gets people motivated and his own performance is always up and the crowds love him. He really gets them going over here in the United Kingdom. That is the challenge that we have to face."
Smith believes England will face a selection poser if they decide to pick Flintoff, who has not played a Test match since the 2006-07 tour of Australia. And in contrast he can see a settled look about the South African squad. Smith said: "England have got interesting tactical challenges. If Freddy comes in, do they leave out a batter, do they play him as a bowler? We are sitting here waiting to see where they will go. Are they going to bring back a few of the old brigade or leave the youngsters in there? These are the questions we are waiting to see when they select their team.
"If I think [back] to the last series with England when they arrived in South Africa, they were a very settled outfit who had won a lot of Test matches together. "Everyone knew their role in that environment and we have come here in that position with all the players we want to be involved and having had success behind us." South Africa will be favourites for the series by virtue of their second position in the International Cricket Council Test rankings and impressed in the opening tour game with Somerset at Taunton, which ended in a draw.
But Smith knows such expectations will count for nothing unless they perform to their potential. He said: "The favourites' tag, whether it is thrown around or not, will come down to the performances on the field." * PA Sport