Birmingham, England:England captain Andrew Strauss is confident that all-rounder Andrew Flintoff will overcome pain in his right knee to play in the third Ashes Test against Australia at Edgbaston on Thursday.
Flintoff, Man of the Match in the second Test at Lord's last week when England won to take a 1-0 lead in the five-match series, is retiring from test cricket at the end of the series because of his injury troubles. But after a week's rest following Lord's, he is expected play.
"He seems fine," Strauss told reporters on Wednesday. "He's come through all the workouts he's had to do pretty well so barring anything happening overnight, like his knee swelling up dramatically, he will be OK. We are optimistic."
All-rounder Flintoff, Man of the Series when England won the Ashes 2-1 in 2005, is in the habit of saving his best performances for Australia. Its captain Ricky Ponting said after Lord's that his team, which is seeking to retain the Ashes, would need to play Flintoff's hostile fast bowling better in Birmingham if it is to rebound in the series.
England will name its final team at the toss, though Strauss confirmed left-arm spin bowler Monty Panesar will not play and has returned to his county team. Slow bowlers are not expected to provide much threat with torrential rain having ravaged the Edgbaston ground.
Another man England will be without is its leading batsman Kevin Pietersen, who underwent surgery on an Achilles injury a day after the Lord's Test finished.
His absence provides another opportunity for Ian Bell, who was dropped earlier this year after a slump in form. Bell has scored eight centuries in his 46 Tests but has often been criticized for failing to convert promising innings into centuries. Despite the criticism Bell's average is a respectable 40.
"First of all we are going to miss KP because he has been an ever-present for the last 50-odd tests and because he is a quality, world-class batsman," Strauss said.
"But Ian Bell (who will bat at No. 4) has come in and having been out of the team myself I know how determined he will be to take his chance. KP performs well against Australia but what an opportunity it is for Belly to show that he can be a long-term player for us in the future."
The 115-run win at Lord's has given England added confidence for the rest of the series, Strauss said, but he is expecting an Australian backlash.
"This is a huge Test match because whichever team wins takes a lot of momentum into the last two tests," Strauss said. "The Aussies are going to come back strong so we need to raise our game even more from Lord's.
"Although we won there are still areas we need to improve on. We scored 425 in the first innings but we were almost 200-0 so when we get in a similar position again we need to go big. We could also have bowled better at times, so there is room for improvement."
England (from): Andrew Strauss (captain), Alastair Cook, Ravi Bopara, Ian Bell, Paul Collingwood, Matt Prior, Andrew Flintoff, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, Steve Harmison, James Anderson, Graham Onions.
Australia (from): Ricky Ponting (captain), Phillip Hughes, Simon Katich, Mike Hussey, Michael Clarke, Marcus North, Brad Haddin, Mitchell Johnson, Nathan Hauritz, Peter Siddle, Ben Hilfenhaus, Shane Watson, Andrew McDonald, Stuart Clark.