For most of his career, Andrew Flintoff has varied between being the great all-rounder for whom England have been waiting and a fat lad from Preston, which is not the sort of all-rounder they had in mind. He revealed last night that he is now much more the former than the latter and provided incontrovertible evidence in all categories.
After securing the final wicket of the sixth one-day international here to earn the team a tense victory by five runs with one ball left, Flintoff cavorted around the Wankhede stadium baring his chest. England had drawn the series 3-3, coming back from 3-1 down. The man known as Freddie after the "Flintstones" waved his No 11 shirt above his head but no spare flesh protruded from the torso below. It was not quite Ryan Giggs waving his No 11 but it was closer than it would have been six months ago.
But it was Flintoff's deeds with bat and ball which confirmed that the monumental effort he has put in off the field is reaping rewards. They did not, for reasons known only to the match referee, Denis Lindsay, earn him the man of the match of award. That went to Marcus Trescothick, whose innings of 95 was indeed scintillating, but Flintoff not only rescued England's innings from disaster but then bowled a titanic spell at the end, when the tension was at its highest and true fat lads would have burst.
"It's probably just as well I'm going to New Zealand rather than home because I'd get some stick for taking off my shirt," he said. "A year ago I wouldn't have been asked to bowl the last over for St Anne's, let alone England." He might regret it, he might be censured for it, but what his gesture displayed was his sheer joy in the game.
How England need joy as well as wins. In effect, the sides exchanged middle-order batting collapses. While Trescothick was at the wicket, the tourists were headed for a mammoth total; while Sourav Ganguly was batting, India were overhauling it. Flintoff was instrumental in salvaging one and effecting the other.
He is a leaner athlete and a maturer cricketer now. England were deep in the mire when he came to the wicket at 173 for 5, having squandered a riproaring start in which they scored at seven an over. Flintoff recognised the need for composure and exhibited it. His bat was plumb-line straight and his shots selected with the caution of a librarian opening a first edition. He eschewed risk but still kept the board ticking over, his 40 taking 50 balls. Together with Darren Gough, he put on 37 for the final wicket and saw England's innings into the 50th over. Without them the match would have been lost.
With the ball, he bowled a fast and tight first spell of six overs for 18 runs at a time when India's rate needed to be arrested. He then came back and took three wickets in two separate spells. But what mattered above all was that he kept his nerve. India needed 11 to win the match at the start of their 50th over, 10 to tie and win the series. Five came off three balls, the Indian eighth wicket pair then tried to run a bye off the fourth but Flintoff raced down the pitch, collected the throw from the wicketkeeper James Foster and threw down the stumps. He then bowled Javagal Srinath with the fifth ball and England were home.
Their innings had more fluctuations than the average stockmarket, promising record dividends and abundant riches one moment to the kind of penury that would have had self-respecting brokers jumping from the 40th storey the next. A few middle-order batsmen might have considered following them. But by the end of the day's trading, Flintoff and Gough's more sensible investment policy meant that some of the losses had been clawed back.
The tourists now had a working balance. But for the fifth time in the series the middle order gave away wickets in clutches when there was an easier way of nudging and rotating the strike and boring another huge crowd to irritation.
Rarely even in England's miserable recent limited overs past can such a beginning have been so badly squandered. After losing a wicket in the first over (and it it should have been two) they romped away, so that the first 15 overs saw them reach 107 for 2. After 20 they were 142.
The middle-order collapse ensured that despite a recovery, their total was barely enough but this England are greater than the sum of their parts. They stuck at it , they removed Sachin Tendulkar and when Ganguly was pushing them home he was unfortunately bowled becoming entangled in a sweep shot. India panicked, England did not, wickets kept falling, seven of them for 59.
England had their series draw. They might also have a lean, mean all-rounder from Preston.
England won toss
M E Trescothick c and b Harbhajan Singh 95
N V Knight c Ratra b Srinath 0
*N Hussain c Harbhajan Singh b Ganguly 41
M P Vaughan st Ratra b Ganguly 16
G P Thorpe st Ratra b Harbhajan Singh 6
P D Collingwood c Sehwag b Harbhajan Singh 2
A Flintoff c Agarkar b Srinath 40
A F Giles c Sehwag b Harbhajan Singh 0
ÝJ S Foster c and b Harbhajan Singh 13
A R Caddick c Kumble b Tendulkar 7
D Gough not out 16
Extras (b2 lb3 w14) 19
Total (207 min, 49.1 overs) 255
Fall: 1-1 (Knight) 2-88 (Hussain) 3-153 (Vaughan) 4-172 (Thorpe) 5-173 (Trescothick) 6-174 (Collingwood) 7-174 (Giles) 8-205 (Foster) 9-218 (Caddick) 10-255 (Flintoff).
Bowling: Srinath 7.1-0-37-2 (6-0-31-1, 1.1-0-6-1); Agarkar 5-0-47-0 (w7) (one spell); Kumble 10-0-43-0 (w5) (4-0-29-0, 4-0-10-0, 2-0-4-0); Ganguly 8-0-40-2 (w1); Harbhajan Singh 10-1-43-5 (w1); Tendulkar 7-0-30-1, Badani 2-0-10-0 (one spell each).
Progress: 50: 37 min, 46 balls. 100: 69 min, 82 balls. 150: 100 min, 126 balls. 200: 158 min, 215 balls. 250: 204 min, 290 balls.
Trescothick's 50: 73 min, 42 balls, 4 fours, 1 five, 1 six.
V Sehwag c Thorpe b Caddick 31
S R Tendulkar c Foster b Gough 12
*S C Ganguly b Giles 80
D Mongia st Foster b Vaughan 35
M Kaif c Hussain b Flintoff 20
H K Badani not out 27
ÝA Ratra c Giles b Vaughan 8
A B Agarkar c Foster b Caddick 0
Harbhajan Singh c Collingwood b Flintoff 5
A Kumble run out (Foster-Flintoff TV replay) 5
J Srinath b Flintoff 0
Extras (b1 lb10 w11 nb5) 27
Total (220 min, 49.5 overs) 250
Fall: 1-36 (Tendulkar) 2-88 (Sehwag) 3-155 (Mongia) 4-191 (Ganguly) 5-206 (Kaif) 6-224 (Ratra) 7-224 (Agarkar) 8-238 (Harbhajan Singh) 9-250 (Kumble) 10-250 (Srinath).
Bowling: Caddick 10-1-61-2 (nb3, w2) (7-1-51-1, 3-0-10-1); Gough 10-1-56-1 (nb1, w4) (4-0-28-1, 4-0-18-0, 2-0-10-0); Flintoff 9.5-1-38-3 (nb1, w1) (6-1-18-0, 2-0-10-1, 1.5-0-10-2); Giles 10-0-47-1 (w4) (6-0-37-0, 4-0-10-1); Vaughan 10-1-37-2 (8-1-28-1, 2-0-9-1).
Progress: 50: 37 min, 50 balls. 100: 69 min, 92 balls. 150: 114 min, 164 balls. 200: 160 min, 233 balls. 250: 216 min, 302 balls.
Ganguly's 50: 82 min, 64 balls, 4 fours, 2 sixes.
ENGLAND WON BY FIVE RUNS
Umpires: S C Gupta and M S Mahal.
TV replay umpire: N N Menon.
Man of the match: M E Trescothick.
Man of the series: S R Tendulkar.Reuse content