Cricket: Flintoff displays maturity to help rescue England

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England 271-7 v Free State-Griqualand West

ANDREW FLINTOFF provided the most assured performance of his international career here yesterday to increase England's options for the first Test as he guided his side to 271 for 7 at the close of the first day against a Combined Free State/Griqualand West XI.

The 22-year-old Lancastrian was selected for his first senior tour largely because of his hard-hitting strokeplay, although Duncan Fletcher, England's new coach, believed his seam bowling could also be a force on South African pitches. However, a recurrence of his back problem has limited his role to batting and prompted the management to consider replacing him on the tour. They deferred that decision to give Flintoff time to recover and also to prove that he can bat in the Test side at No 7.

England were in some trouble at 127 for 5 yesterday when Flintoff came to the crease. He responded superbly, hitting a steadily compiled 65 which was spoiled only by his dismissal off the final ball of the day when he was trapped lbw to the seamer Herman Bakkes.

Resisting his natural instinct, Flintoff built his innings carefully - a trait he has been trying to develop in a bid to avoid being labelled as a slogger. He still found time to hit nine boundaries whenever the Combined XI gave him width, dropped it short or bowled too full.

"It would have been nice to carry on in the morning and get a hundred tomorrow; getting out in the last over wasn't great," he admitted. "I had tightened up to try and get through to tomorrow. I believe I have more to offer than just going in and slapping it around for a while."

Another bright spot for the tour party was Chris Adams' equally disciplined 84, which followed his impressive 83 in the previous match in Cape Town last week. Together, they added 132 crucial runs and prevented England being dismissed for a lowly total in good batting conditions.

Adams was given one reprieve before he had scored, slashing at a full delivery which flew between wicketkeeper and slip. He hit nine other fours before missing out on his chance to become the first England player to score a century since Alec Stewart in Melbourne last December when he edged the seamer Johan Van Der Wath to first slip.

England's innings had begun badly with the opener Mark Butcher continuing his miserable tour by falling in the sixth over by edging to slip. Michael Atherton followed soon after when Chrisjan Vorster's fifth ball clipped the England opener's off-stump after seaming back in.

Nasser Hussain, the England captain, lucky to be given a first-ball reprieve when he appeared to edge straight to short leg, and Michael Vaughan steadied the innings before Vaughan, skied a catch to mid-on. Hussain followed five balls after lunch, edging Bakkes behind as he attempted to withdraw his bat having hammered eight boundaries in his 41 - and Alec Stewart (19) continued his poor run of scores by playing on after attempting to drive Garth Roe.

First day of four; Combined XI won toss

England - First innings

M A Butcher c Liebenberg b Bakkes 3

M A Atherton b Vorster 26

*N Hussain c Bossenger b Bakkes 41

M P Vaughan c Gidley b Van der Wath 14

A J Stewart b Roe 19

C J Adams c Brooker b Van der Wath 84

A Flintoff lbw b Bakkes 65

G M Hamilton not out 8

Extras (b3 lb3 nb4 w1) 11

Total (for 7) 271

To bat: D Gough, A D Mullally, P C R Tufnell.

Fall: 1-25 2-33 3-86 4-94 5-127 6-259 7-271.

Bowling: Van der Wath 20-0-72-2 (3nb, 1w); Bakkes 20.5-7-50-3; Vorster 11-4-53-1; Roe 20-6-62-1 (1nb); Gidley 18-5-28-0.

Combined XI: *M I Gidley, G F J Liebenberg, L L Bosman, P H Barnard, F C Brooker, W Bossenger, H C Bakkes, J J van der Wath, G A Roe M N van Wyk, C J Vorster.

Umpires: R E Koertzen and D Bekker.