England's young guns defy belief to fill Flintoff with pride

'I can't remember what I've said but it has come from the heart'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

If they were not quite five days that shook the world England's performance - a snook cocked in the direction of those legions of observers who feared for their existence in the series - was still of the loud-bang variety. When the first Test against India began, the tourists were beleaguered and bedraggled. When it ended last night they were enriched and expectant.

Andrew Flintoff, the stand-in captain and talismanic hero, could reflect not only on a job well done but on one that at times defied belief.

"A few things had gone against us coming into this Test match," he said with masterly understatement, referring to the loss of the captain Michael Vaughan, the vice-captain Marcus Trescothick, the fast bowler on whom so many hopes were pinned, Simon Jones, and the trustworthy spinner who was already back home nursing an injured hip, Ashley Giles.

"For five days we have scrapped and we've fought and for four-and-a-half days we've had the best of the Test match. We have got to be proud of what we have done here. A lot of things were said about the side going into the Test match - that we had no chance - but the lads in the dressing-room have shown their character.

"This is the youngest side England have fielded for 40 years and for five days we have scrapped and fought and got into positions where we could win a Test match against India, one of the best sides in the world."

Flintoff led a side containing three debutants which was the fourth-youngest in England's 843 Test matches and it was obvious that they warmed to him. "I can't remember exactly what I've been saying to them but it has all come from the heart," he said. "I'm very passionate about playing for England and very proud to lead the side in this Test. It helped having Andrew Strauss, Paul Collingwood, Steve Harmison helping me out at every opportunity.

"Matthew Hoggard was fantastic. Colly got us right back into it with the bat, then Hoggy came out, got wickets for not very many runs. His control and discipline on a wicket not offering very much apart from a little bit of reverse swing were amazing."

It was clear that Flintoff relished the captaincy, partly because of his touching pride in being handed the role, partly perhaps because he knows he should one day be able to hand it back to Vaughan. "When I get back to the hotel and come down from it all I might feel a bit tired," he said.

"But I'm always involved in the game anyway, batting six and bowling my overs. I'm always thinking when I have not been captain and never really switch off. I wasn't going into it with any trepidation about feeling tired. I have been in touch with Michael by text. I've enjoyed it but I'm just keeping his seat warm. Michael's our captain and I'm looking forward to playing under him again."

That, however, will not be until at least the summer. Flintoff now has to prepare his strategy for next week in Mohali. "We've enjoyed this Test match. We've done the simple things well and not got too smart with the game. In Mohali we can't get ahead of ourselves. We've got to think about what we did well this week, how well we played and what we did to do it. As for expectation, I don't think we'll put it on ourselves. I think expectation is only what you build it up to be in your own head."

Flintoff also praised the 21-year-old Alastair Cook, who scored a hundred on his debut and according to his captain "looked as if he had played 100 Test matches", and the left-arm spinner Monty Panesar, whom the crowd took to their heart.

"I have known Monty for a while, I was at the first academy intake with him in Adelaide," Flintoff said. "All he has wanted to do is play for England, so you can imagine the excitement on his face when he was told he was playing against India. The crowd chant his name when he comes on to bowl, when he gets on the team bus there are big cheers for him and he is enjoying it. He wants to bowl and knows what he wants to bowl."

Rahul Dravid, the India captain, was as chivalrous as ever. He said: "I'm sure England will be delighted with their performance considering the tough period they had before the Test. We decided to have a go at tea-time and maybe we could have decided to have a go around 45 minutes earlier. We had our backs to the wall for most of the match but did well to stay in and fight." All is still to play for.