First scalp for Flintoff as Harmison helps derail Lancashire

Lancashire 199 Durham 92-2

Andrew Flintoff survived only 15 deliveries on another poor day for England's front-line batsmen but had some positive news for coach Duncan Fletcher after a successful if tentative return to action with the ball here yesterday.

Durham, chasing a fourth win in four matches to strengthen their position at the top of the Championship's Second Division, had the better of the opening day, at one stage having Lancashire in deep trouble at 106 for 8 after the England strike bowler Steve Harmison had continued his superb start to the season.

But the biggest boost for England's Ashes preparations came in the evening sunshine when Lancashire's captain Mark Chilton invited Flintoff to bowl his first competitive overs since the ankle operation in January that followed the early end to his South Africa tour.

Flintoff eased himself back with five relatively gentle overs but still claimed a wicket when Durham opener Jon Lewis edged his 19th delivery into the gloves of wicketkeeper Warren Hegg.

"Clinically, I'm fine," Flintoff said. "The main thing now is to get the confidence to slam that front foot down with real conviction. That will come with the weight of overs bowled, but for the moment it will just be short bursts here and there. I've bowled at about 75 per cent today."

Lancashire were given clearance to bowl Flintoff only on Tuesday evening, when England and Wales Cricket Board chief medical officer Peter Gregory contacted county coach Mike Watkinson. "They have trusted us to use commonsense," Watkinson said.

When Glen Chapple dismissed England's Paul Collingwood in the final over, the day ended on a high note for Lancashire but largely it had belonged to Durham, who found more in the pitch than Chilton had bargained for when he opted to bat.

Harmison, who bowled impressively to raise his tally for the season to 21 first-class wickets, claimed two successes in his first spell, dismissing Australia's Brad Hodge with a brutish delivery. Then 30-year-old Aussie seamer Mick Lewis shot away Lancashire's middle order, Flintoff perishing when he edged to first slip.

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