I wouldn’t give you much for England’s chances of regaining the Ashes after what happened at Headingley, but one thing I’m absolutely certain of – without Andrew Flintoff, they’ve got no chance.
Fred must play, even if he’s on one leg – it’s that simple. Maybe he’ll have to bowl in shorter spells rather than being flogged as he has been in the past, but he’s still worth it.
I’m still trying to work out what happened at Headingley. Surely if Fred says he’s fit to play, as his agent Chubby Chandler has since told us he did, you play him. After all the talk about his lack of runs, he was the top scorer at Edgbaston – and then they drop him.
Sure, he’s in the side as an all-rounder, and there wasn’t long between Tests. But on that basis he was never going to be flat out in practice between the games.
Put it this way, the happiest people in Yorkshire when the news came through that he wasn’t playing would have been the Australian team.
Apart from the Fred factor, there’s a couple of other big reasons why England really are struggling. The first is Mitchell Johnson.
People were keen to write him off after the first couple of Tests but, as a fellow Queenslander, I can tell you he’s come back plenty of times before – from some horrendous injuries at the start of his career.
He’s starting to find his feet now, he’s as strong and athletic a bloke as has ever played the game, and the bad news for England is that the Oval pitch will be perfect for him, with its pace and bounce.
Then you’ve got to look at the pressure on the two teams, and the way they’ve responded to it. Headingley was a big pressure game, but there was more on Australia – England had the chance to win the Ashes, the Aussies had to perform to stay in the series.
There’s not much doubt who handled the pressure best there. Now it’s all on England again.
As usual in this country, the response has been pretty hysterical. Ravi Bopara was the best player in England at the start of the series – now he’s got to go.
If you’re picking on the basis of who the Aussies wouldn’t like to face, then I’d say Rob Key would probably be the go – he’s the best player of fast bowling in the country, and he’s bang in form.
There’s also merit in Mark Ramprakash given his amazing consistency in county cricket and the fact that the match is at the Oval, although you do have to ask the question of why he hasn’t done it at Test level in the past.
That’s the problem with Ramps and Key to be honest, and the dilemma the selectors are in. If they rate them as good enough for a pressure match like this, why haven’t they picked them before?
They’re better off keeping faith in what they’ve got, sticking Fred back in the side, and hoping for a miracle.