Cricket: Flintoff sparks a recovery

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Leicestershire 388 & 4-1 Lancashire 241

NOTHING MUCH that happened here yesterday would have come as a huge surprise to Lancashire. After Chris Lewis had completed his second successive Championship century, their batting, somewhat out of touch and definitely below strength, found the going predictably tough and the follow-on was avoided only by the efforts of their last-wicket pair.

On a day when they would have given a lot for four or five hours of the unfit Mike Atherton at his most bloody-minded, Lancashire were indebted to Andy Flintoff who, as batsmen of his type are always likely to do, made his own luck in another innings which illustrated that there is no more exciting striker of the ball in England at the moment.

But of those who promised to lend him most support, both Nathan Wood and Mike Watkinson perished in unlucky fashion and the prospect of following on loomed large before Warren Hegg began a survival operation which was eventually completed, though not without a few hairy moments, by Richard Green and Michael Smethurst.

To see two such immense talents as Lewis and Flintoff in impressive action on the same day could almost lull you into believing there is nothing seriously wrong with English cricket. Lewis cuts a formidable figure to world-weary bowlers at No 8. When he reached an inevitable-looking century from 157 balls, there could have been no more crestfallen figure than Lancashire's Mark Chilton, who had dropped him at 30; this will probably bring a new connotation to the term "the Chilton Hundreds". (See Hansard rather than Wisden for an explanation).

By the time Lewis and Matthew Brimson had completed a free-wheeling last- wicket partnership of 123, some of Lancashire's body language, bowling and out cricket suggested they were pretty fed up. Flintoff found himself thrust into the frame at 30 for 2 alongside Wood, who could do little more than hang on tenaciously against the moving ball.

Flintoff, who had flogged Essex for 146 from 66 balls in a one-day game on Sunday, now had a chance to show his character in proper cricket, as they say up north. To his credit he managed a blend between correct defence and strokes of withering power which brought him 11 fours and two sixes.

Wood probably felt the worst was behind him when his partner, who is not built for quick singles, overlooked the important modern principle that it does not pay to hesitate over a run when you have played the ball firmly to the only Australian present; Mike Kasprowicz's throw from mid- off was low and fast, and Paul Nixon did the rest.

Kasprowicz himself found a good one for Flintoff, though if Lancashire needed proof it was not their day, it came from the dismissal of Mike Watkinson. He cut Brimson firmly onto the boot of silly point, whence the ball lobbed to cover where the diving James Whitaker completed a catch which was upheld after the umpires had conferred.