Flintoff backs Stokes inclusion
Former England captain Andrew Flintoff believes uncapped Durham all-rounder Ben Stokes should be given a given a chance to prove himself in the forthcoming Ashes series.
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It has been a standout year for Stokes, who was one of Durham's star performers in their LV= County Championship title-winning campaign and impressed in the one-day international series against Australia last month.
Stokes initially came through the ranks at Chester-le-Street as a batsman who could bowl, yet it has been his form as a seamer that has earned rave reviews both domestically and internationally in 2013.
He is vying with Yorkshire duo Gary Ballance and Jonny Bairstow for the number six spot in England's batting line-up although Flintoff thinks the balance Stokes can give Alastair Cook's men with his bowling, where he could be used as the fourth seamer, gives him the edge.
"I'd play him , I'd have him in the team," Flintoff said.
"He can bowl at 90mph and can bat at six, it's a no-brainer for me.
"Over there the bowlers have to earn their wickets and just having that other seamer who can bowl to give Jimmy (James Anderson) a rest, give (Stuart) Broad a rest and whoever the other one may be (the third seamer) is invaluable.
"And he can bat, I'd get him in straight away."
England have not had an influential all-rounder in their line-up since two-time Ashes winner Flintoff himself announced his retirement from all forms of the game in 2009.
Yet the former Lancashire man is convinced that Stokes can play a starring role if the hierarchy show faith in him.
"I think they've got to give someone a go at it and I'd give Stokes a go," said Flintoff.
"Everything's about confidence, the people around him can put faith in him.
"Going out there and starting well in the warm-up games can give him confidence going into the series. He's good enough to do well so I'd get him in."
The options Stokes offers may be needed if England are to win the Ashes for a history-making fourth time, something the tourists last achieved in the 1800s.
A 3-0 series success on home soil earlier this year was a much closer contest than the scoreline suggested.
Australia came to England with many predicting a 5-0 whitewash and while Michael Clarke's men left without the urn, they drew credit from all quarters and the return series Down Under, which gets under way on November 21 in Brisbane, is expected to be a much closer affair.
Flintoff has hailed the impact of coach Darren Lehmann, who replaced Mickey Arthur little more than two weeks before the start of the first Ashes campaign, for installing a fearless attitude into Australia's camp.
"I think over the past few months the Australian side has improved, I think a lot of that is down to their coach Darren Lehmann, he's doing a great job," said Flintoff.
"He's bringing a fearless way of playing; don't be afraid to lose, go out there and win, and I think that's dangerous."
England, by contrast, flattered to deceive, sometimes relying on brilliant individual performances to triumph and Flintoff believes the favourites tag weighed heavily on their shoulders.
"I don't think England were as good as they thought they were this summer. Anderson and (Graeme) Swann bowled well, (Ian) Bell scored all those runs," said Flintoff.
"But it looks as though they need to break the shackles a little bit. It's almost as if they're so worried about losing, they're holding back a bit and that's what Australia aren't doing.
"Historically, we're not good at being favourites.
"We like being underdogs and playing it down and saying 'we're going there to compete'. That was the tactic when I played.
"Every time we were expected to win, more often than not, we didn't. We couldn't handle it."
Flintoff, who scored 3845 runs and took 226 wickets in 79 Tests, still expects England to come out on top this winter, but only if they play to the best of their availability.
"I think it'll be 2-1 to England. I think it should be 2-1 to England but if they're not on it then it could be 2-1 to Australia," he added.
"England should win the series, but if they got beat I wouldn't be massively surprised."