LONDON: England will wait until an hour before the start of the first Test against the West Indies before deciding whether Andrew Flintoff is fit.
He had two spells of five overs on the main square at Lord's on Wednesday and then announced, with the air of confidence which is entirely his own, that his ankle was "OK and a bit better than Tuesday" but there is still a doubt about his ability to bowl the full workload that is bound to fall on his broad shoulders.
The pitch is tinged with green, the groundsman Mick Hunt says he has never had a more difficult preparation and that there is damp underneath the surface and overhead cloud will produce plenty of swing. In other words, win the toss, put the other side in for a tough first innings and set up victory.
If the deputy England captain Andrew Strauss wins the toss and puts the West Indies in, Steve Harmison, with 27 wickets at 14.92 this summer, Matthew Hoggard who has 20 wickets at 18.80 with support from either Liam Plunkett or James Anderson, called in as cover for Flintoff, should make short work of a team that has just one rain-hit game as preparation.
Flintoff - who needs him? He is, so it seems, very keen to play but it maybe that his troublesome ankle would be better off taking a rest. "Of course we want him," said the new coach Peter Moores, "but we want a fully fit Freddie Flintoff."
That neat piece of alliteration seems to sum up England's lighter approach under Moores perfectly. He spoke more meaningful words in seven minutes on Wednesday than Duncan Fletcher did in seven years. He suggested that if Flintoff is not fit, England might lengthen its batting line-up, another hint that this Test will not need a fifth day.
Moores spoke without inhibitions. He wants his players to show passion for playing for their country, to enjoy their cricket and to demonstrate belief in their own ability. There should be no hangover from the miserable winter; "everyone starts with a clean sheet, the history of the side began the day I walked through the door," he said.
Strauss added his own compact saying to the mix. "If we aspire to be world leaders we should never lose at home," he said. It is apparently the new team mantra and now, at the start of a most important season as England try to climb back to the summit, it has to put action to the words.
The only consolation for the West Indies is that life can hardly get worse. Those shrewd men, the bookmakers, gave their own verdict; whether you are betting in pounds, Trinidad dollars or rupees they will pay out at 10-1 if West Indies wins.
The team seems to feel that a drawn series is its best hope and its new administration has already tried to impose discipline by bringing in an 11 p.m. curfew. Chris Gayle, its very senior opening batsman, has already protested this imposition but it is a necessary first step if it is to get close to the old glory days.
England (from): Andrew Strauss (capt.), Alastair Cook, Ian Bell, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Owais Shah, Andrew Flintoff, Matthew Prior, Matthew Hoggard, Steve Harmison, Monty Panesar, James Anderson, Liam Plunkett.
West Indies (from): Ramnaresh Sarwan (capt.), Devon Smith, Chris Gayle, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Dwayne Bravo, Daren Ganga, Fidel Edwards, Corey Collymore, Sylvester Joseph, Runako Morton, Daren Powell, Denesh Ramdin, Ravi Rampaul, Darren Sammy, Jerome Taylor. Umpires: Rudi Koertzen (South Africa) and Asad Rauf (Pakistan).