Andrew Flintoff’s return to competitive cricket for Lancashire on Sunday combined excitement with a measure of frustration. The 36-year-old former England all-rounder took two wickets in his four overs to help Lancashire to a handsome victory over Worcestershire in the Blast T20 but did not get the chance to bat at New Road as his side ran up a record total in the short format.
Lancashire’s total of 229 for 4 after being put in exceeded the 220 for 5 they made against Derbyshire at Derby in June 2009, which by coincidence came in Flintoff’s last T20 appearance for the county before he succumbed to the injury problems that forced him to retire the following year after knee surgery. Flintoff was the key man on that occasion, smashing 93 off 41 balls, but he was left fidgeting on the sidelines yesterday, ready to come in at six down but not needed after Ashwell Prince, with 68 from 43 deliveries, and Jos Buttler (55 off 28) built on the flying start provided by Tom Smith’s 30 from 20 balls to set Worcestershire a daunting task.
Lancashire were 61 for 1 after the powerplay overs, but finished the innings more spectacularly still, adding 102 from the final seven overs, with Buttler striking the ball cleanly and with power to hit three towering sixes.
But the size of Lancashire’s score created almost the perfect circumstances for Flintoff to bowl, some five years after he last played competitive cricket, in the final Test of the 2009 Ashes series at The Oval.
Although Worcestershire made an encouraging start to their pursuit of the mammoth target, scoring 50 without loss from the opening five overs, Flintoff could ease himself back under much less pressure than he would have faced in a low-scoring match.
His first ball almost brought a wicket, when Richard Oliver gave the treatment to a wide long hop but lived dangerously as Steven Croft flung himself full-length at point, getting fingertips to the ball. Flintoff’s next ball went sailing into the crowd at long-on as the left-handed Oliver looked to take an aggressive approach.
No more was seen of Flintoff until the 13th over, by which time a tall order had become taller for the home side. Needing to keep the scoreboard moving, 19-year-old Tom Kohler-Cadmore enjoyed a moment that will stay with him when he pulled his first ball from Flintoff over the midwicket boundary for six but three balls later became his first comeback wicket, bowled swinging extravagantly at a straight one.
Victory was essentially in the bag when Flintoff returned for his third and fourth overs. They were much tidier than the first two and brought a second wicket when Alexei Kervezee holed out to long-on.
Flintoff was detained signing autographs afterwards but declined to speak to the media, although he later tweeted his pleasure: “It’s a bit like sex, always better 2nd time!”