England boosted by Flintoff fitness status

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='http://www.ndtv.com/convergence/images/thumbnail/ver1/f/freddie.jpg' class='caption'> Andrew Flintoff's recovery from a side strain has increased the possibility that the England allrounder will start the first Test against the West Indies.

Updated: February 03, 2009 08:22 IST
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Kingston, Jamaica:

Andrew Flintoff's recovery from a side strain has been faster than expected, increasing the likelihood that the England allrounder will start the first Test against the West Indies from Wednesday.

"We are cautiously optimistic at the moment," England captain Andrew Strauss said yesterday. Flintoff "is ahead of where the medical staff wanted him, so that is really encouraging. But you can never be 100 percent sure on these things until the day before the game."

The 31-year-old Flintoff had an extended bowling practice on Monday and planned to go through another rigorous session on the eve of the series-opening match.

"It is a bowling injury which probably no one wants," Flintoff said. "The one main concern with it is that, although on the scan it is fine, there is a risk of aggravating it.

"I have got to prove tomorrow that there is no danger of doing that."

England, No. 5 in the International Cricket Council's Test rankings, had a 3-0 win in the four-match series on its last tour to the Caribbean five years ago.

Flintoff, one of only two English survivors from that tour, was expecting a closer competition this time.

"One thing we know playing out here is that you have to play well to beat them," Flintoff said. "They're a decent team and if you are complacent in any way you can get found out with the likes of Chris Gayle, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan in their team.

"We are confident of beating them but it is important for us to start well, and play the kind of cricket we know we can."

Chanderpaul, the ICC's top-ranked batsman and one of five West Indians who faced England in 2004, is determined to avenge a lopsided loss at Sabina Park on the last tour.

"Starting ahead and staying ahead would be the main focus for us," Chanderpaul said. "If we play well enough, we can get ahead and stay ahead, not forgetting that England has a very good all-round team."

The West Indies were bowled out for a record low total of 47 at Sabina Park in the last series, with English paceman Steve Harmison claiming seven for 12.

"I'm also not forgetting what happened here the last time," the left-hander said. "In the back of my head, I still think about those things and hope that I can go out there and perform this time."

West Indies (from): Chris Gayle (captain), Dale Richards, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Xavier Marshall, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Brendan Nash, Denesh Ramdin, Jerome Taylor, Sulieman Benn, Daren Powell, Fidel Edwards, Devon Smith, Lionel Baker, Amit Jaggernauth.

England (from): Andrew Strauss (captain), Alastair Cook, Ian Bell, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Andrew Flintoff, Matt Prior, Stuart Broad, Ryan Sidebottom, Steve Harmison, Monty Panesar, James Anderson, Owais Shah, Graeme Swann, Adil Rashid, Tim Ambrose.

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