Angus Fraser: His destiny fulfilled, this may prove to be Fred's last stand
Knowing that his days are numbered, Flintoff was desperate to go out in style
Tuesday 21 July 2009
Should yesterday's inspirational display from Andrew Flintoff prove to be his last as a Test cricketer, and millions of cricket-loving fans around the world will be hoping it is not, it was a pretty good one to go out on.
Actually, it was magnificent and it is hard to believe Flintoff has ever felt prouder than he did when making his way off the Lord's pitch after England's 115-run triumph in the second Ashes Test. For an England cricketer life does not get much better than a match-winning five-wicket haul against Australia at the home of cricket.
During an unbroken 10 over spell from the Pavilion End, Flintoff highlighted just why he has won the hearts and minds of nearly every England supporter in the land over the last decade. In it he gave the wholehearted commitment we have become accustomed to, but on this occasion the 31 year-old was rewarded with only the third five-wicket haul of his 77 Test career. He fully deserved it.
Unlike many players, Flintoff has never really had a statistically orientated view on the game. He just plays it as hard as he can and hopes to come out on the winning side. Flintoff admits he has not produced as many potential match-winning displays as he should, but this performance means there will always be one place at Lord's where his endeavour as a bowler will be remembered.
Flintoff scored one of his five Test hundreds at the home of cricket, against South Africa in 2003, and yesterday's 5 for 92 means that his name will now appear in eternity on each of the most prized honours boards in cricket, the home dressing room at Lord's.
There was an element of destiny about Flintoff's final day here, a feeling that the game would not pass without England's talisman making a significant contribution.
Having announced he will retire from Test cricket at the end of the Ashes, and in clear discomfort from the injury to his right knee during several stages of the game, there is a real chance that this could be the all-rounder's final outing in white clothing for England.
Flintoff wants to play in the final three Tests of the series, and he has become accustomed to playing in pain, but his knee is bound to feel sore once the adrenalin of yesterday's climax and the alcohol of last night's celebrations wear off.
Knowing that his days are numbered Flintoff was desperate to go out in style, and he announced his intentions to Andrew Strauss before the start of play, informing his captain that he would not stop bowling until the game was won.
He kept his word. Flintoff would have considered several possible scenarios as he placed his head on his pillow on Sunday evening, but even he could not have imagined striking with his fourth ball of the day, when he forced Brad Haddin, on 80, to edge a low catch to Paul Collingwood at second slip. Big players make an impact when it is needed most and by removing Haddin, Flintoff had done just that. With the workload of four tough days taking its toll he was beginning to tire and Strauss must have been considering taking him off after five further hostile overs. It was then that fate began to take over. Graeme Swann bowled Michael Clarke, a wicket that encouraged Flintoff to have another over. In it England's hero bowled Nathan Hauritz with a beautiful nip-backer.
The dismissal left him one wicket away from an elusive five-wicket haul, a situation that tends to rejuvenate even the most fatigued of bodies. Three overs followed and it seemed he would fall short of another landmark and Strauss must have been considering a change when Flintoff overstepped the front line with the final ball of his ninth over.
Feeling exhausted, he decided to bowl his final delivery off a short run-up, a signal that he was knackered and ready for a rest. Again fate smiled kindly on him as a good length ball punctured the defence of Peter Siddle and knocked back middle stump. In celebration Flintoff went down on one knee like a gladiator with his arms in the air. As his elated team-mates arrived, he hugged them one by one.
With Australia still needing 134 runs for an improbable victory he knew 75 years of misery was now at an end. Eventually he broke away from the huddle to accept the grateful applause of a huge crowd.
Swann deprived Flintoff of the ultimate finale when he bowled Mitchell Johnson for 63 to seal victory. But this was Flintoff's day, and the image of England's favourite warrior leading the team off, stump and sun hat in one hand, match ball in the other, will be a picture we'll see a lot of in years to come. It was the fitting ending for a man who plays the game as they like it at Lord's – hard but fair.
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