From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.32 :: NO.31 :: Aug. 01, 2009
England’s hero Andrew Flitoff is greeted by his team-mates after the fall of an Australian wicket.
It was the greatest of all goodbyes, yet another example of the way Andrew Flintoff has dominated England for the last 10 years and another reason to be sad because we are seeing the last of this sunny giant.
Flintoff, bowling a stream of deliveries at more than 90 miles an hour and at the same time showing the control that has made him a magnificent defensive bowler as well as a wicket-taker, bowled throughout the last session of the second Test at Lord 8217;s.
Other England players had a part in this famous victory — the first by an England side against Australia at Lord’s for 75 years when the country’s present Monarch was a little girl, when television was a distant dream, when the internet did not even have a name — but Flintoff was the hero.
Amazingly, since he announced two days before the match that he would not play Test cricket after this season, there have been a succession of stories, hints and rumours that (a) he would not play again after the second Test, (b) that England would not miss him and (c) that he has made the announcement as part of a plot to be at the centre of every celebration.
There was even a suggestion that it was part of a publicity ploy to remind a gullible public that he was about to publish another book and that, hey, he has not been that great an all-rounder after all.
How little some people understand this game!
The point about Flintoff has never been that he would hit a succession of big scores or take a mountain of wickets like a Glenn McGrath or an Ian Botham.
His career was just as important for his spirit, the inspiration he brought to the team, the grin on his face, his gentle — yes, gentle — sledging.
When Flintoff is remembered I hope it will be as a man who showed that in this hustle and bustle 21st century, with its emphasis on victories and cash and awards, it could still be played as it was in the Golden Age.
The Flintoff way — despite all those debilitating injuries, ill-luck, skirmishes with authority, an unsuccessful England captaincy, a regular indulgence in drink and an attempt to row round the Caribbean in a pedalo — was to play principally for fun.
All right, it was serious fun, with the intention of winning, and making a lot of money and milking the applause. But a large part of the time was devoted to respect for opponents, for a sense of the way the game should be played.
A very modern Flintoff understood and obeyed the principles of that old-fashioned expression “It’s not cricket.”
He desperately wanted to win, to be on top of the batting and bowling averages, to have his name on the honours board and to hear the crowd roar his name.
He hated missing games, going through the process that followed his numerous operations and training and retraining.
But, whatever else has been said to his discredit — and his critics have come rushing out of the woodwork in the last few days — no one has ever accused him of being small-minded.
Flintoff was — from the moment Bobby Simpson first set eyes on his ferocious blows, from the minute David Lloyd first thought “hey up this lad can bowl a heavy ball and hit a big six” — a natural cricketer.
I first set eyes on him in a cup-tie with Lancashire where he took the final catch, aged 19, after a long run round the boundary, with such casual nonchalance that we had the impression of a child of nature let out to play.
We saw all these aspects of his character in the second Test at Lord’s which England won just before lunch on the final day when you could not drag yourself away lest the impossible happen and Australia win by one wicket with a couple of balls of the final over left.
It did not happen; mostly because of Flintoff.
England won the toss and batted. Andrew Strauss and Alistair Cook put on 199 for the first wicket, Strauss went on all the first day to 161 and the rest did not give them adequate backing but England still managed what should have been a winning score of 425.
Andrew Strauss gave the new ball to Flintoff and James Anderson and the effect from Flintoff grew on Australia throughout the match.
Anderson, who is reputed to bowl better when he is leader of the attack, took second place to Flintoff but put on a great exhibition of fast swing bowling and had four wickets for 55.
Australia were blasted out for 215 and Strauss decided against enforcing the follow-on but rather piled up the runs so that on the fourth morning he could declare at 311 for six, leaving Australia to make 522 to win.
Impossible? Of course. Well, yes, but Australia went for this unusual target as if they had every intention of winning.
Andrew Strauss... masterly knock.
Flintoff snapped up the first two wickets as he bowled seven successive overs at high pace and at their low point Australia were 128 for five. But their main hope lay with Michael Clarke who, in a remarkable interview before the day’s play began, had laid out a plan by which this record total might be reached.
“We intend to go for runs in a positive way,” he said, with a typical Aussie grin. You might say that was the Flintoff spirit as well and it is difficult to underestimate the tiny distance by which he failed to make the miracle work.
By the close of the fourth day Clarke — backed up by the gutsy Brad Haddin — had put together a stand of 185 — and Australia were only — what a word in the circumstances — 209 from victory.
I know that more than one England player slept badly, concerned that if Australia turned the impossible dream into reality they would look very foolish indeed.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man — and this time that man was Flintoff.
He did not allow Haddin to add to his score, he bowled Nathan Hauritz and Peter Siddle to put his name on the bowling honours board for five wickets. He is already on the batting board.
Graham Swann, sneaking to the wicket and bowling balls that look identical until you take liberties with one, got rid of Clarke when it was quite clear that dainty batsman still had a robust eye on 522 and finally Mitchell Johnson.
Of course the series is not finished as there are three Tests to play but having tip-toed to a draw in the first match and won the second, England are in the ascendancy in their bid to repeat the glory days of 2005.
For all his injuries Flintoff swears he will still be playing at the Oval when the final Test begins on August 20 and — if his current form is any indication — sweeping all before him.
Second Test, Lord’s, July 16-20, 2009. England won by 115 runs.
England — 1st innings: A. Strauss b Hilfenhaus 161; A. Cook lbw b Johnson 95; R. Bopara lbw b Hilfenhaus 18; K. Pietersen c Haddin b Siddle 32; P. Collingwood c Siddle b Clarke 16; M. Prior b Johnson 8; A. Flintoff c Ponting b Hilfenhaus 4; S. Broad b Hilfenhaus 16; G. Swann c Ponting b Siddle 4; J. Anderson c Hussey b Johnson 29; G. Onions (not out) 17; Extras (b-15, lb-2, nb-8) 25. Total: 425.
Fall of wickets: 1-196, 2-222, 3-267, 4-302, 5-317, 6-333, 7-364, 8-370, 9-378.
Australia bowling: Hilfenhaus 31-12-103-4; Johnson 21.4-2-132-3; Siddle 20-1-76-2; Hauritz 8.3-1-26-0; North 16.3-2-59-0; Clarke 4-1-12-1.
Australia — 1st innings: P. Hughes c Prior b Anderson 4; S. Katich c Broad b Onions 48; R. Ponting c Strauss b Anderson 2; M. Hussey b Flintoff 51; M. Clarke c Cook b Anderson 1; M. North b Anderson 0; B. Haddin c Cook b Broad 28; M. Johnson c Cook b Broad 4; N. Hauritz c Collingwood b Onions 24; P. Siddle c Strauss b Onions 35; B. Hilfenhaus (not out) 6; Extras (b-4, lb-6, nb-2) 12. Total: 215.
Fall of wickets: 1-4, 2-10, 3-103, 4-111, 5-111, 6-139, 7-148, 8-152, 9-196.
England bowling: Anderson 21-5-55-4; Flintoff 12-4-27-1; Broad 18-1-78-2; Onions 11-1-41-3; Swann 1-0-4-0.
England — 2nd innings: A. Strauss c Clarke b Hauritz 32; A. Cook lbw b Hauritz 32; R. Bopara c Katich b Hauritz 27; K. Pietersen c Haddin b Siddle 44; P. Collingwood c Haddin b Siddle 54; M. Prior (run out) 61; A. Flintoff (not out) 30; S. Broad (not out) 0; Extras (b-16, lb-9, w-1, nb-5) 31. Total (for six wkts., decl.): 311.
Fall of wickets: 1-61, 2-74, 3-147, 4-174, 5-260, 6-311.
Australia bowling: Hilfenhaus 19-5-59-0; Johnson 17-2-68-0; Siddle 15.2-4-64-2; Hauritz 16-1-80-3; Clarke 4-0-15-0.
Australia — 2nd innings: P. Hughes c Strauss b Flintoff 17; S. Katich c Pietersen b Flintoff 6; R. Ponting b Broad 38; M. Hussey c Collingwood b Swann 27; M. Clarke b Swann 136; M. North b Swann 6; B. Haddin c Collingwood b Flintoff 80; M. Johnson b Swann 63; N. Hauritz b Flintoff 1; P. Siddle b Flintoff 7; B. Hilfenhaus (not out) 4; Extras (b-5, lb-8, nb-8) 21. Total: 406.
Fall of wickets: 1-17, 2-34, 3-78, 4-120, 5-128, 6-313, 7-356, 8-363, 9-388.
England bowling: Anderson 21-4-86-0; Flintoff 27-4-92-5; Onions 9-0-50-0; Broad 16-3-49-1; Swann 28-3-87-4; Collingwood 6-1-29-0.
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