'Batting seems natural again,' says Flintoff

Lancashire 208 & 254 Hampshire 345 & 118-0 (Hampshire win by 10 wickets)

It was a good day for Andrew Flintoff – and England, in that the bat in the hand of their 2005 Ashes talisman felt "natural for the first time in a long time" – but not so uplifting for Lancashire, who tumbled to a second consecutive heavy defeat, laid to waste for the second time in 11 months by the Pakistan-born wrist spinner, Imran Tahir.

But first the good news: Flintoff, in the second match of his latest comeback, scored 54 runs in the second innings. Given that his questionable record with the bat is not a recent phenomenon, they were welcome runs indeed.

He might have had more, too, he would argue. Having gone past the half-century by lofting Tahir over mid-wicket for six and then cutting him crisply for his ninth four, he looked set. But as he attempted to pull Dimitri Mascarenhas in the next over, the ball looped over the head of wicketkeeper Nic Pothas, standing up, to be caught by Michael Lumb, running around from first slip.

Hampshire's appeal brought a quizzical look from Flintoff but a raised finger from umpire Peter Willey, who clearly felt the England all-rounder had at least made contact with the glove. Shaking his head and pointedly rubbing his shoulder as he walked back to the pavilion, Flintoff evidently disagreed.

Even so, it was an innings that gives cause for optimism. Flintoff has not made a first-class hundred since the pivotal Trent Bridge Test in 2005. In 67 attempts since, this was only his 11th half-century. "I felt a bit unfortunate to be out," he said. "Not so much from a personal point of view. It was an opportunity, on a flat pitch, to get some runs for the team.

"But the pleasing thing for me is that, for the first time in a long time, batting seemed natural. I've made no secret of the fact that while I'm always confident, coming back from injury, that I can run in and find my length with the ball, I've been searching for form with the bat for a period of time.

"Every time lately that I've got somewhere close, I've got injured. But today the bat felt part of me rather than a foreign body so I'm pleased with where I'm at. I can do no more in terms of fitness and the ball is coming out of the hand pretty well. Now I just want to play as much cricket as I can, before the First Test in Cardiff."

Two Twenty20 matches for Lancashire this week, starting with Leicestershire back in Liverpool tomorrow, are earmarked, before England's three-day warm-up against Warwickshire next week.

Yet the day's most influential player yesterday was not Flintoff but Tahir, who took 7 for 66 and 12 in the match against Lancashire at Old Trafford last July. Hampshire failed to chase down 255 on that occasion. This time, needing only 118 after Tahir finished with 6 for 108 as Lancashire, once 176 for 2, subsided to 254 all out, there was no falling short.

Indeed, openers Michael Carberry and Jimmy Adams knocked off the runs in a little more than an hour to complete a 10-wicket victory before tea.

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When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
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He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
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I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
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