Clarke eager for Freddie finale

Australia vice-captain Michael Clarke said his side would do everything they could to have a player of Andrew Flintoff’s class back in their side for a match such as the Ashes finale here at the Oval.

England and Australia head into the fifth Test, which starts on Thursday, with the series all square at 1-1. The hosts must win to regain the Ashes and Australia avoid defeat to retain them.

Only twice before in the history of Test cricket’s oldest contest have the arch-rivals been locked at 1-1 with one to play and this match has been given added spice by it being the injury prone Flintoff’s last before he retires from the five-day format.

The star of England’s 2005 Ashes series win, Flintoff bowled England into a series lead this season in the second Test at Lord’s before top-scoring for his side in the drawn third Test at Edgbaston.

However, the 31-year-old fast bowler was controversially left out of the fourth Test at Headingley on fitness grounds where, in his absence, Australia thrashed England by an innings and 80 runs.

Asked if all the fuss over Flintoff would prove a distraction to England, Clarke told reporters at the Oval on Tuesday: “It depends what’s going on inside their camp.

“Freddie is an amazing player. If we were in that position and it was Ricky [Ponting, the Australia captain], we’d be that keen to have him back in the team it wouldn’t be a distraction at all.
It depends what the selectors and captain are thinking. Will he be fit enough?”

Clarke, one of several Australia batsmen worked over by Flintoff four years ago, said: “There’s a lot of respect there, he’s an amazing player. I’m as excited as I’ve ever been because it’s a huge Test.”

The 28-year-old Clarke has been in superb form this Ashes series and is the leading run-scorer on either side this campaign with 445 in six innings at an average of 89 and two centuries.

However, the stylish New South Wales right-hander said: “It’s 1-1, this is the important Test and this is the one we’re focused on.

“Personally it’s been good to score some runs, but it’s irrelevant now unless I make runs out here and contribute to the team’s success. Being the leading run-scorer but not winning the series is worthless.”

Clarke, who shrugged off concerns about his fitness following a stomach injury, said memories of four years ago were a motivating force.

“Once I arrived in England in the back of my mind there were memories from ‘05 I wish I could forget. But that’s what makes you a better player, you learn from your mistakes as an individual and a team. The guys that played in ‘05 will be really keen to make sure the results are a lot different come Monday.”

Clarke, who said his shot selection had improved in the last four years, said the state of the series would not affect Australia’s tactics in the early stages of the Oval Test.

“If we have no choice, then we have no choice. I’d rather 1-1 than a 2-1 loss, but our attitude won’t be that when we walk out to the ground on Thursday. We’ll be chasing one result and that’s to win.”

Australia’s 2005 team contained such greats as Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Adam Gilchrist, all of whom have now retired from Test cricket.

“There’s a lot less experience in our team compared to ‘05, but the one thing this side has shown over the last 12 months is that we do have the class, the enthusiasm, the desire to be as successful as any team that I’ve played in,” said Clarke of a side that won a Test series in South Africa in March.

“Yes, we probably don’t have the greats, at this stage of the guys’ careers, like we did on ‘05, but we’ve got everything else.

“Over a period of time you’ll see a lot of the guys in this side become very good cricketers, if not great cricketers.”—AFP

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