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Flintoff is a brute of a man, but he is also a big softie
Sunday 05 March 2006
When Andrew Flintoff was officially named as England's captain for this series there were immediate thoughts that the decision was part of a cunning plan to prevent him returning home for the birth of his second child. Flintoff would probably not have been awarded one of the most prestigious jobs in British sport had he insisted on keeping to his initial schedule, but to suggest that a certain amount of arm-twisting took place behind the scenes? Well, it does not bear thinking about.
When Michael Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick returned home Flintoff became the obvious man to take charge. Andrew Strauss may well be pencilled in as the long-term successor but England needed a strong, popular and inspirational figure to lead them out of disarray, and in Flintoff they had the perfect candidate.
For a man with so little captaincy experience he has acquitted himself very well indeed. He has, predictably, led from the front. It would have been a major surprise if he had done anything but. He batted conscientiously in England's first innings, bowled with his usual vigour and set a wonderful example in the field.
That a captain is only as good as his bowlers is a cliché, and it is true that the excellent bowling of Matthew Hoggard and Monty Panesar made Flintoff's task far easier than it might have been, but he also set good, realistic fields. Batsmen are great tinkerers who love fiddling around with their techniques, which is one of the main reasons why Vaughan continually comes up with new plans and field changes.
It is a method that has brought England unimaginable success for the last two years but Flintoff's approach, like that of fast bowlers, is far more straightforward. He prefers simple fields - two slips, a gully and three in a ring on the off-side, a fine-leg, mid-wicket and mid-on on the leg side. And once this field is in place he generally leaves it there until something happens to make him change his method. When Panesar was bowling Flintoff showed marginally more flair. A slip and a silly-point or short-leg were kept in most of the time, but as with the seamers the main objective was control. The only time the plan did not work was when Mohammad Kaif and Anil Kumble dug in on the third day.
So, Flintoff's tactics have been sound enough, but he was not made England captain for his shrewdness. He was invited to lead the team because of his personality, which has simply inspired his team. He would not have had to say a great deal to convince his team-mates to follow him. He is a selfless character who has never given anything but his all for the side, and he would only have been asking them to play as he does.
Flintoff is a brute of a man, but he is also a big softie, and his understanding of how a bowler feels helped him bring the best out of them.
In India's first innings he thought nothing of sprinting 40 yards from slip to give Matthew Hoggard a gentle word of encouragement when he tired, and he was in constant dialogue with the new boy Panesar. The best thing Flintoff did for Panesar was to give him an early bowl. There is nothing a debutant hates more than standing in the outfield for three hours waiting for his first bowl, and Panesar was brought on just 13 overs into India's innings.
He responded magnificently. His first ball pitched on a good length and the first over was a maiden. Flintoff gave him nine further overs and having been shown such trust Panesar would have been totally at ease at the end of his spell.
Being emotionally attached to a situation is not always a good thing, and Flintoff's handling of Ian Blackwell, another debutant, showed that he does have a ruthless streak. The Somerset man had an early bowl too, but it quickly became evident that India's batsmen were comfortable against him and Flintoff whipped him off. He bowled just six more overs in the innings.
The only other criticism that could be aimed at Flintoff is that he was late for the toss and that he ran out without his blazer on. He might be able to sort out the etiquette before the Second Test.
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