Cricket: Flintoff fireworks

Essex 168; Lancashire 171-3 Lancashire win by 7 wkts
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The Independent Online
ANDY FLINTOFF finished Lancashire's first floodlit National League match of the season in the spectacular style that this cricket demands with 18 runs off four balls with more than nine overs remaining.

Lancashire had not really needed to move at the speed of Lightning to overhaul Essex's modest target, but Flintoff gave an 8,000 crowd, roughly twice what might have been expected on a Sunday afternoon, what they wanted with a four, a six and two more fours off the unfortunate Ricky Anderson.

Earlier, in what passed for daylight on a day which, despite the recurring theme of "Summer in the City", was characterised by scudding black clouds, Essex had set a mildly challenging total only thanks to Stuart Law and Ronnie Irani.

Law scored 44 before being caught on the boundary to become Muttiah Muralitharan's only victim on a day when he was treated with less than his accustomed respect. By the time he received his county cap at the tea interval, he had gone for 44 runs in his nine overs.

The opening stages had belonged instead to two ungainly, ponderous looking figures. There was Sugar the purple dinosaur, the new Lancashire mascot, paraded for the first time amid the skydivers and balloon-waving schoolchildren, and then there was Ian Austin, who took his first two wickets to the strains of an oompah band who refused to retire when play started.

After Irani, the former Lancashire player captaining Essex in the absence of Nasser Hussain, had compiled a sensible 64 off 96 balls Austin, in harness with Peter Martin, cleaned up their resistance. Austin finished with 4 for 15 to show that some old-fashioned Lancashire one-day traditions are still intact.

The novel opening partnership of Mike Watkinson and Chris Schofield began brightly for Lancashire before Watkinson was run out by Irani after dithering over a second run. Despite the Essex bowlers, particularly Mark Ilott, spraying wides around, Schofield managed to get in the way of a straight one from Ashley Cowan to be lbw.

John Crawley and Neil Fairbrother then put on 60 to put Lancashire comfortably in control before Crawley played on to Paul Grayson. That brought in Flintoff, who was uncharacteristically restrained to begin with, but then opened his shoulders to end the contest with a bang louder than any of the fireworks, overtaking Fairbrother's 50 with his last bludgeoning blow.