Ashes 2013: Andrew Flintoff warns England over pressure

 

First Test: England v Australia

  • Venue: Trent Bridge, Nottingham
  • Date: 10-14 July
  • Start time: 11:00 BST

Coverage: Ball-by-ball Test Match Special commentary on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra, BBC Radio 4 Long Wave and via the BBC iPlayer Radio app, BBC Sport website & BBC Sport app. Live text commentary on BBC Sport website, app & mobile devices

Andrew Flintoff has warned England that their ability to cope with being favourites in the Ashes will determine the outcome of the series.

England have won three of the last four Ashes series and begin the defence of the urn at Trent Bridge on Wednesday.

"Historically, England have not been good at being the front-runners," Ashes winner Flintoff told BBC Sport.

"They have got to treat it as any other Test match. They just need to go out and play."

Former all-rounder Flintoff was part of the England side that regained the Ashes after an 18-year wait in 2005, but used their subsequent defeat in Pakistan as an example of the team not coping well with the tag of favourites.

More recently, England won only one of the four series they played when ranked as the world number one Test side, with ex-captain Andrew Strauss admitting that mantle did not sit "as comfortably as it should have done".

The Ashes: England v Australia

10-14 July: 1st Test, Trent Bridge

18-22: 2nd Test, Lord's

1-5 August: 3rd Test, Old Trafford

9-13: 4th Test, Chester-le-Street

21-25: 5th Test, The Oval

"They will be trying to take the pressure off themselves and stay relaxed," said 35-year-old Flintoff, who retired from Test cricket after helping England regain the Ashes in 2009.

"Pressure might hinder them, so it's all about how they react."

In contrast, little is expected from Australia, who have endured a turbulent build-up to the series.

Batsman David Warner was banned after punching England's Joe Root in a Birmingham bar and coach Mickey Arthur was replaced by Darren Lehmann, while there are doubts over the fitness of captain Michael Clarke, who has a long-standing back injury.

"There's no pressure on Australia," added Flintoff, who scored 3,845 runs and took 226 wickets in 79 Tests for England.

"Lehmann taking over was a good move. He's a likeable bloke and the players will want to do well for him."

Clarke averages 66.10 with the bat in his 24 Tests as Australia captain and Flintoff believes the 32-year-old must have a good series with the bat if the Aussies are to regain the Ashes.

"Clarke has to have success with the bat and as leader," he said. "He's got a tough job, because he hasn't got the luxury of the quality players his predecessors as captain had."

Off-spinner Graeme Swann says England have identified Clarke as a key wicket,  while Australia's James Pattinson predicted that new England opener Root may be the target of sledging from the tourists.

"It's just words," continued Flintoff. "Glenn McGrath used to say he targeted players, but that's nonsense.

"You try to get everyone you bowl at out; you don't try harder to one than another.

"Clarke will be aware that he needs to have a good series, but Swann is just reminding him."

Alastair Cook's journey from Maldon to the Ashes

Flintoff also backed England's decision to omit Nick Compton, despite the opener scoring two hundreds in his first nine Tests.

However, the former Lancashire player said 22-year-old Root may not be the best option to replace Compton at the top of the order.

"Compton is unlucky, but it's the decision I would have made," said Flintoff.

"Root's a fine player with a great temperament, but opening the batting might not be the best thing for him at this stage.

"I'm not saying he can't do it, but in an ideal world he could have some more time in the middle order. One of the senior players like Ian Bell or Jonathan Trott could have put their hand up to open."

Flintoff scored 402 runs and took 24 wickets in the 2005 series victory and was named as the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year for his achievements that summer.

"The Ashes is the pinnacle of your career as an England cricketer," he said.

"The reason they have played and practised all this time is to have the opportunity to take on Australia in an Ashes series.

"You can have Twenty20 cricket and World Cups, but it's all about the Ashes. These players are very, very lucky."