Ex-England all-rounder Andrew Flintoff tells Ross McLean how he expects his old side to beat Australia and regain the urn
Former captain Andrew Flintoff insists the current England side is the strongest he can recall and one that is primed to regain the Ashes which were unceremoniously surrendered 18 months ago.
England head into their five-Test showdown with Australia, which starts on 8 July at Cardiff, on the back of a 199-run thrashing at Headingley on Tuesday as New Zealand fought back to level the Investec series 1-1.
The Black Caps’ tussle proceeded a sea change in English cricket: the arrival of former England skipper Andrew Strauss as director of cricket, the sacking of head coach Peter Moores and the subsequent appointment of Australian Trevor Bayliss.
England’s last five Test matches, which incorporate a drawn tour of the Caribbean against an under-strength West Indies, have yielded just two wins and a draw, but Flintoff is keen to glance beyond the inconsistency.
“If you look at the side on paper, I cannot really remember one stronger than this one,” Flintoff told City A.M. “You have got England’s best ever batsman in Alastair Cook and best ever bowler in Jimmy Anderson.
“Ian Bell is one of our greats and Jos Buttler is amazing, one of the best ball strikers I have seen. He could quite easily end up being like [South Africa’s] AB de Villiers. Joe Root is going to be unbelievable as well.
“The only area we haven’t really got covered at the minute is that holding bowler, who when the opposition are coming at you can sit in and apply pressure through drying up runs, and maybe a spinner. But they are only small things. I’d be more worried if we were looking and thinking ‘how are we going to score runs or how are we going to take wickets?’. England have everything they need.
“I would imagine there will be a quiet confidence in the England dressing room ahead of the Ashes. They are not favourites by any means but I hope they think they can win it. I reckon we could nick it 2-1.”
One of England’s new breed of young, dynamic players to enhance their standing during the New Zealand series was hard-hitting Durham all-rounder Ben Stokes, who scored the fastest ever Test century at Lord’s while batting at No6. Only Cook scored more runs in the England camp than the 24-year-old, while Stokes also chipped in with crucial wickets during England’s victory march in the first Test, which prompted inevitable comparisons with Flintoff.
“Ben has got the ability to do more than I did,” added Flintoff, who scored 3,845 runs at an average of 31.77 and claimed 226 wickets in 79 Test matches for England. “It’s a bit harsh putting comparisons on anyone but he’s a proper cricketer. He has got all the attributes and I’m a big fan of the way he plays.
“He bats like a proper batsman and doesn’t have to manufacture too much. His bowling will improve. If you’ve got your No6 making runs and taking wickets, that’s massive.”
Another positive for England was the renewed batting form of skipper Cook, who continued his resurgence with a knock of 162 at Lord’s – his 27th Test hundred – and two half-centuries in Leeds. Cook had endured a barren spell before reaching three figures for the first time in 36 Test innings in Barbados at the start of May, although questions remain over his tactical acumen.
“He has scored more Test runs and more hundreds for England than any other player. He is 30 years of age and has a better record than [India great] Sachin Tendulkar at his age,” said Flintoff, who is sharing his cricket memories on a live tour of the UK.
“But he goes through a little bit of a lean patch and everyone is on his back. It’s a joke, it’s laughable. Who are these people?
“I don’t think he will mind me saying that tactically he is probably not the best captain. Alastair’s biggest attribute is that the team like him and back him. They go out together and are all playing for the captain.
“If you’ve got that, you don’t have to make the right decision all the time because the strength of the side will pull you through. You could be the best tactician ever but if you don’t have the team, it’s pointless.”
Flintoff is a long-term admirer of Moores, who was sacked for the second time as England coach last month, having worked under the former Sussex boss at international level as well as at county side Lancashire.
But just as his first reign in charge gave way to an unprecedented era of success under Andy Flower, Flintoff insists England will owe Moores a debt of gratitude should England overpower Australia this summer.
“I thought that was a terrible decision,” said Flintoff. “It seems that he has laid the foundations again for someone to take over and reap the rewards. He did it for Andy Flower and now for Trevor Bayliss.
“I remember when he took over the first time, the team was in a right mess, but he started to turn it around. The way England played at Lord’s, that didn’t just happen overnight. It was Peter working his stuff again.”
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When you lose 5-0, all you want to do is get back on that field against them and put it right. It means you have something to prove and that’s a dangerous position to be in. England can use that defeat.
RECOVERING FROM ASHES WHITEWASH
He needs to bowl quick. He can bowl 90 mph and can change the complexion of matches. At 80, 82 mph he has little impact. I don’t know whether it is a confidence thing or a fitness thing. Whatever it is it needs addressing.
SEAMER STUART BROAD
Who cares? You don’t get runs every time you bat and the sign of a good team is one that dovetails. Gary Ballance has come in and got hundreds and Ian Bell has got more than 20 centuries. There is nothing to concern anyone.
THE FORM OF BALLANCE AND BELL