Disciplined all-rounder shows transformation is complete
Saturday 04 September 2004
This second one-day international against India produced one of those rare passages of play that will remain sharply etched in the memory however fast the years may pass. For an hour Harbhajan Singh gave a master class in the art of off-spin bowling as his figures of 10-2-14-2 suggest, while "Freddie" Flintoff gave a no less compelling exhibition of the way in which top class spin bowling should be played.
At 105 for 4 England were in considerable trouble and the chances of even the new, vintage Flintoff laying this particular ghost did not seem good. Twelve months ago Flintoff might have stood firm for a while but then along would come a rush of blood and while a couple of huge blows might have cleared the boundary, one would soon have gone vertically, and that would have been that.
But, from his very first ball, with Harbhajan and fellow off spinner, Verinder Sehwag operating in tandem, there was never the slightest suggestion that Flintoff was not fully aware of his responsibilities. His defence was impeccable and for a while he was content to milk the singles using the spin to turn the ball away into the legside.
Harbhajan gave him no respite on a pitch that allowed him a good deal of turn. His flight was beguiling and occasionally the ball that went on with the arm narrowly passed the outside edge. Each ball posed its own canny problem and Flintoff found the answer to them all.
He never allowed himself to let his hair down against Harbhajan, but at the other end he found Sehwag a less threatening prospect. Once, with perfect judgement, he came a pace-and-a-half down the pitch and deposited him among the spectators on the midwicket boundary. On another occasion, the ball bounced only once before going over the same boundary.
For some time, this was an innings of high concentration, great discipline, excellent footwork and shrewd judgement. It brought to mind a comparable innings against another Indian spin attack by a man whose natural instincts were to have a go. In the second Test in Calcutta in 1976-77, Tony Greig made a hundred in six hours of extraordinary and uncharacteristic patience helped, in his first Test match, by Leicestershire's Roger Tolchard, who made 67. Their partnership effectively won the match for England.
This innings of Flintoff's showed, perhaps more than any other he has played this summer, what a transformed batsman he has become. Of course, his power was memorable, especially in the second half of his innings, but it was in the first half that he showed that he has it in him to become a truly great batsman.
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