England's desperate opportunism make them into game's Liberia
Saturday 19 July 2008
If we learned one thing here yesterday, it is that obscurity and celebrity are just different shades on the same spectrum. All it takes to bring them together is unreasonable expectation. We may think we know an awful lot more about Andrew Flintoff than Darren Pattinson, whose names stood out like neon when the team sheet was handed out on a dank, melancholy morning in Leeds. But just as the superhero exists in only two dimensions, the judgements that brought Pattinson here can hardly be deemed any less trite.
What could England possibly expect of Flintoff when he came galloping on to the field just before 2.30pm, with the ship listing badly at 123 for 5? He exuded impatience, as well he might. There had been times, during his exile, when he had feared that ankle problems might end his Test career, and now he had been obliged to endure the indignity of watching Tim Ambrose shuffling around at number six.
But what, equally, could the nation expect of Pattinson, the man who had planned to spend the day at Alton Towers with his family? A fortnight short of his 30th birthday, he had abruptly been asked to play his 12th first-class match with three lions on his chest. He had left Grimsby at the age of six, when his parents emigrated to Australia, and here he was, after a handful of decent spells for Nottinghamshire, washed back like driftwood.
The trawler men of his native town might sooner be reminded of a different phenomenon of the high seas. For the desperate opportunism of his selection might well leave other nations viewing England as the Liberia of Test cricket, flying a flag of convenience.
It is not just in the coarse brushstrokes of celebrity, of course, that Flintoff is the quintessential, wholehearted patriot in the team. He knew his duty as he ran past the disconsolate figure of Ambrose: one resembled a garden gnome whose fishing rod had snapped; the other, a restless lion.
Seldom has a defensive prod been greeted more exultantly than the one with which Flintoff stifled his first ball, from Makhaya Ntini. Likewise, the vague slice that bisected gully and slips to get him off the mark. He paced excitedly either side of the wicket between deliveries, and put as much energy into his "leaves" as he might into a six. But after three more square boundaries – all forced off the back foot, with varying degrees of control – he perished in a ghastly swipe at Dale Steyn.
Flintoff had faced just 28 balls, not even one per month since his swashbuckling Ashes of 2005. If he is ever to retrieve those heights, then he does not need anyone else to hurry him along. Perhaps that was the thinking behind his relegation to number seven. No such clinical logic, however, can be readily inferred from the giddy promotion of a man whose head for heights had previously been tested only in tiling roofs.
Not even his captain can have had much idea what to expect when inviting Pattinson to share the new ball. The situation called for control and experience. It took only three erratic overs, at a cost of 16 runs, for Michael Vaughan to decide that he had seen enough, and toss the ball to Flintoff instead.
And Freddie was full of ardour, following through to the batsman's toes. His 35th ball was too good even for Graeme Smith, who had looked in delectable form. Moreover he had already caught Neil McKenzie, low at slip.
For 18 months, Flintoff had been a spectre over the English game. Having squeezed his entire first-class career into the same period, Pattinson has never been more than an invisible man. It would be unfair to measure the true substance of either on this one day – but that will not stop everyone from trying.
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