London:Australia captain Ricky Ponting believes England's focus on Andrew Flintoff's fitness and other selection issues will dent their hopes of regaining the Ashes.
Ponting's team claimed a resounding victory at Headingley over the weekend to tie the series at 1-1 and leave England needing to win the final Test at The Oval next week.
In the days since Headingley, the fitness of Flintoff and the form of England's middle-order batsman has come under close scrutiny and Ponting admits he has enjoyed seeing Andrew Strauss's team under the microscope.
For much of the series it was Australia who were criticised over team selection after disappointing displays in the second and third Tests. But in his column in the Daily Telegraph, Ponting said: "It is very hard for us not to notice these distractions. Admittedly these side issues do not make winning the Oval Test any easier for us, but it is fair to say the speculation makes it harder for England.
"Up until the last couple of days we were the story. Following the defeat at Lord's the questions were all about our team and how on earth we could win the Ashes. That all seems to have changed.
"It's all proof to me that two weeks can be an awfully long time in cricket. For the first time since the end of the Cardiff Test talk and attention has shifted away from us."
Ponting also claimed England gambled with their decision not to risk Flintoff at Headingley as the all-rounder struggles with knee injury that has forced him to announce his retirement from Test cricket at the end of the series.
"Flintoff bowled well at Lord's and when you travel around England you can sense the people love him," Ponting said. "He gives everyone a lift and enlivens the crowd. But apart from Lord's, where we performed poorly, we have played him pretty well in this series and England have a tough decision to make.
"Looking back to last winter, I had a similar choice to make when Ben Hilfenhaus and Peter Siddle were carrying injuries in South Africa. It got to a stage where I had to ask directly if they were ready to go and could get through the Test match.
"When you are involved in selection as a captain you want players to be 100 per cent honest with you."