Gladstone Small has urged one of England’s bowlers to step forward and “be the next Andrew Flintoff” when he quits Test cricket at the end of the Ashes series.
The former Warwickshire and England paceman is a massive admirer of Flintoff whose charisma and intimidating bowling serve as an inspiration to his team-mates.
But Small – man of the match with five for 48 when England retained the Ashes in Melbourne in 1986-87 – knows England have to be prepared to fill the gap when Flintoff bows out because of his knee problem.
Small said: “Is Flintoff irreplaceable? Not only as a bowler but as the guy who lifts the team. He is one of the few guys in cricket who, when performing, the rest of the team hang on to his coat tails and get dragged along with him. ‘Fred’ has got that charisma about him and his chest expands and he just wants to play for England.
“People go on about ‘Fred’ not taking lots of wickets and the stats probably back that up. But opposition batters know what a threat he is. When ‘Fred’ bowls at you, the ball hits the bat bloody hard and vibrates in your hand. He bowls a heavy ball and he is hard to get away, and the batsmen are under pressure if they can’t get runs. He creates pressure.”
Small believes it is one of the current crop of bowlers who must turn themselves into the next go-to man.
He said: “As well as getting wickets, ‘Fred’ has got that ‘intimidatory’ factor and he is just one of those guys the crowd gets behind. It is a shame his body won’t allow him to do that after this series. That is going to be greatly missed.
“He will be gone but players always come and go. It is the nature of the game and it is up to the rest of the England boys and someone else to put their hand up and be the next Andrew Flintoff.”
Meanwhile, Australia bowler Brett Lee has lost his battle to be fit for the Test.
Lee was already regarded as doubtful with the side strain that had kept him out of the opening two Tests, at Cardiff and Lord’s.
Vice-captain Michael Clarke confirmed Lee would not be recovered sufficiently to face Andrew Strauss’ side tomorrow.
Clarke said: “I don’t think that Brett is going to be right for Thursday. He bowled off only three or four steps today in the net.
“He is doing plenty of fitness work and is working very hard to get himself right.
“I am not sure exactly how far away he is but I think he is out of contention for Thursday.”
Clarke was pleasantly surprised when he had his first view of the Edgbaston pitch yesterday as Australia, holders of the Ashes, look to bounce back from their defeat at Lord’s.
He said: “The pitch looks better than we expected. It is quite dry. I would imagine that spin will play a part in this game.
“I don’t think the forecast is great for the rest of the week and I am sure conditions will come into the equation when selecting the side. We know we need to improve with bat and ball and perform at the highest level.”
Former Australia opener Justin Langer believes Kevin Pietersen’s absence from the remainder of the series could be as crucial a factor as paceman Glenn McGrath’s injury during the 2005 battles with England.
The Somerset skipper can recall how McGrath inspired Australia to victory in the first Test four years ago but then suffered a freak injury when he trod on a ball during practice before the next match, at Edgbaston.
England took advantage of his absence to level the series and won at Trent Bridge before a draw at the Oval left them triumphing 2-1.
Langer said: “The Pietersen injury is a huge blow for England – not unlike the Glenn McGrath injury during the 2005 series.
“It was at that point where the momentum of the series changed and, after losing the second Test, it was like swimming into a tidal wave. We were then up against an England side growing in confidence and momentum plus all the expectations of the English public. It was really hard work after that.
“It could be the same now with Kevin Pietersen. He has not made a lot of runs in this series but Australia know that he and Flintoff are the two dangermen.
“Australia will take some confidence from Pietersen not being there for the rest of the series and, on the flip side, England will know it is a big loss.”