With the second Test between England and South Africa about to get underway, there are no prizes for guessing where all the eyes at Headingley will be focused.
England captain Michael Vaughan has already revealed returning hero Andrew Flintoff will play and will bat at No.7 – although he has been unable to announce his team because of worries over seam bowler Ryan Sidebottom’s fitness after a back injury.
Flintoff, 30, below, has not played Test cricket since the final Ashes drubbing of 2006-07 and has not appeared in a home Test since the summer of 2006.
Hampshire’s Chris Tremlett is to be called in as cover for Sidebottom, and a final decision on the make-up of the team to face South Africa will be made shortly before the off.
The candidates to lose their place to Flintoff are middle order batsman Paul Collingwood, or one of the other pace bowlers – again a decision Vaughan and Co will be leaving until the last minute.
Vaughan, leading his country for the 50th time in Tests, said: “Freddie will play and bat at No.7. “Then obviously the decision will be made whether we play four or five bowlers. It is just a position we want Freddie to get settled in. We see him as having a long-term future in the team and it also relieves some pressure.”
South Africa skipper Graeme Smith, above, has hailed the return of Flintoff, but is fully aware of the threat the all-rounder poses to his side.
Smith said: “He’s a world-class player and I think he’s fantastic for the game.
“It’s going to be another challenge for us in this Test match.”
Smith’s fears are not misplaced because, for all his recent injury problems, Flintoff remains arguably England’s jewel in the crown, along with big-hitting batsman Kevin Pietersen.
And punters could do a lot worse than take the 10/1 with better that the Lancashire player– the man for the big occasion – tops the English batting at the home of the Red Rose’s old enemy.
Pietersen, predictably, leads the market at a best price of 3/1 with Ladbrokes, although Ian Bell – who just missed out on a memorable double century in the first Test at Lord’s – is an interesting 5/1 shot almost across the board and is arguably worth backing again. As far as the South African batting is concerned, Smith is widely available at 7/2 to lead the way along with Jacques Kallis, who will be looking to bounce back after returning disappointing scores of seven and 13 at the home of cricket.
After the stalemate of the first Test, and the horrible forecast in West Yorkshire, the draw has been backed in to a shade over evens across the board, with better going 15/8 against South Africa and Ladbrokes offering England at a decent-looking 5/2.
The pitch at Headingley has generally returned a result in Test cricket over the years although, with the weather being so bad of late, it is impossible to see beyond the draw, even at those odds.
Flintoff has been installed as the 2/1 favourite with better to be England’s top wicket-taker, although the 3/1 against spin king Monty Panesar could turn out to be of more value.
However, Paul Harris took three wickets in England’s mammoth first innings total of 593-8 declared at Lord’s – and it certainly looks worth dabbling in the 6/1 with better against him leading the way this time.
Although Dale Steyn – the 6/4 favourite – could also have a big say in that one.