Flintoff brings a golden hue to autumn

England 251-7 Sri Lanka 95-5
(England win by 49 runs (D/L method))

Anything is possible for England now. The Champions Trophy, South Africa this winter, the World Cup, the Ashes next summer, global domination, all those things that once seemed unattainable lie tantalisingly within their grasp.

Anything is possible for England now. The Champions Trophy, South Africa this winter, the World Cup, the Ashes next summer, global domination, all those things that once seemed unattainable lie tantalisingly within their grasp.

The reason for such wild speculation was embodied yesterday in another thunderous century by Andrew Flintoff as Sri Lanka were swept aside. He blazed his way to his fourth international century of the summer, his third in limited-overs matches, this one from only 89 balls, and took his side to an unassailable total.

Rain curtailed the match, which made the Champions Trophy look wearier than ever. By then England were the only people home and dry. Sri Lanka, initially chasing 252, were 95 for 5 after 24 overs and lost by 49 runs under the Duckworth/Lewis method.

To say that Flintoff is in the form of his life is to fail to do him justice. He is in the form of any cricketer's life and renders comparisons meaningless. He is scoring a mountain of runs at relentless pace and with unbridled joy. The bat he used to complete his innings yesterday arrived by special courier at 8.30am. "I don't tend to treat them too well," he said. Heaven knows what angst awaits the nation and what torment will be visited on a succession of poor souls when England one day have to launch the search for a new Flintoff.

Next summer, Flintoff will be England's fulcrum as they attempt to regain the prize they crave most, the Ashes. But for now, they must contend with Australia on Tuesday in the semi-final.

England have never before been so far in the competition, Australia have never gone beyond the semi-final. Australia will start as favourites because they are world champions, because they remain the top-ranked side by a street and protect their status rigorously, and because they have beaten England in 14 consecutive one-day matches going back nearly six years.

The limited-overs game being what it is might seem to indicate that England are due. But that reckons without Australia's hold over them. In at least four of the 14 defeats, England should have won, only to be overhwhelmed by Australia's self-belief.

Under Michael Vaughan, England have developed their own reserves of the elusive commodity. England remain far from a complete one-day side - their improving fielding is still defective in certain areas, their early middle order batting is suspect, their fifth bowling option is under constant scrutiny - but with Flintoff they can get away with a considerable amount. He would recoil at the suggestion that they are a one-man side because he is such a team man but he takes them into a different dimension.

In seven one-day international innings this season, he has scored three hundreds and a 99, made 21 not out and 34 not out in seeing them to victory and failed only against Zimbabwe of all teams, scoring six, when he was exhausted four days after the birth of his daughter.

He began his innings on Friday and almost immediately offered a routine chance to slip that was spurned. When play resumed yesterday with England on 118 for 3 he was soon put down again in the deep. It was a badly calculated shot, not least because it came only two balls after Marcus Trescothick, had been run out when the bowler, Tillekeratne Dilshan gathered Flintoff's return drive and back-handed a throw on to the stumps with the batsman backing up.

How Sri Lanka were to rue Upul Chandana's leaden response to Flintoff's slog. Thereafter they were carved apart despite six changes of bowling. Flintoff reached 50 from 69 balls and his hundred from another 20. His placement for singles and twos was as skilful as his characteristically monumental hitting. There were three strong man's sixes but one stroke for four through extra cover, as he took his front leg away and crashed the bat through the line of the ball on off stump was breathtaking and lip smacking all at once.

He and Paul Collingwood, eagerly acquisitive, put on 94 in 86 balls for the fifth wicket. England made 100 in the last 10 overs. It was some going anywhere and on the surface could only demoralise the opposition.

Flintoff was out, gaily swinging once more, with two balls left but England made 251, some 30 more than they probably needed to be secure. In windy conditions, Sri Lanka subsided. They had won 16 of their last 17 one-dayers but 12 of those were in Sri Lanka (and the others in Zimbabwe).

They had no answer to Stephen Harmison. When Flintoff was brought into the attack, he took a wicket with his fourth delivery and another in his fourth over. Oh what a simple game.

It is as well for the competition that England and Australia are meeting. It was always a risk staging it in September and while it was a wet summer it is now a wet and dark autumn. Much of the staging has gone reasonably well but the wisdom of using the Rose Bowl as a venue is highly questionable.

It is a lovely arena, but it is inaccessible. There was a full house of 16,000 on Friday, most of whom arrived by park and ride. When play was abandoned the queues stretched for hundreds of yards. One assumed they were waiting for Flintoff's autograph but in fact they were waiting for buses and disproving the theory there would be another along in a minute.

Yesterday the generator powering the fast food outlets kept going on and off. It was the sort of thing which will ensure that England will not be awarded an international tournament again in a hurry. The Rose Bowl is due to stage the first Twenty20 international between England and Australia in 2005. The match will last less time than it will take to get into and out of the ground. Bring on Australia. Let loose Freddie.

BIG FREDDIE'S BIG SUMMER

One-day internationals

21* (v West Indies)

106 (v New Zealand)

123 (v West Indies)

34* (v India)

99 (v India)

6 (v Zimbabwe)

104 (v Sri Lanka)

Total: 493. Average: 98.6

Tests

63, dnb (v New Zealand)

94, dnb (v New Zealand)

54, 5 (v New Zealand)

6, 58 (v West Indies)

167, 20 (v West Indies)

7, 57* (v West Indies)

72, dnb (v West Indies)

Total: 603. Average: 60.3

Overall

Total: 1,096. Average: 73.6

Rose Bowl scoreboard

Sri Lanka won toss

England

(Overnight 118-3)

M E Trescothick run out (Dilshan) 66

(Brilliant stop and flick on to stumps by bowler off straight drive; 145 min, 98 balls, 7 fours)

A Flintoff b Vaas 104

(Edged attempted huge swing to leg on to stumps; 122 min, 91 balls, 9 fours, 3 sixes)

P D Collingwood c Jayawardene b Vaas 39

(Leaping catch at deep mid-wicket from fierce pull; 53 min, 49 balls, 3 fours)

ÝG O Jones not out 2

(13 min, 2 balls)

A G Wharf run out (Sangakkara/Vaas) 0

(Tried to run a bye on pentultimate ball of innings; 1 min, 1 ball)

A F Giles not out 0

(1 min, 0 balls)

Extras (lb3 w8) 10

Total (for 7, 213 min, 50 overs) 251

Fall (cont): 4-123 (Trescothick), 5-217 (Collingwood), 6-250 (Flintoff), 7-250 (Wharf).

Did not bat: D Gough, S J Harmison

Bowling: Vaas 10-1-51-2 (w1) (5-1-13-0 2-0-7-0 3-0-31-2), Zoysa 10-0-61-1 (w1) (3-0-15-0 3-0-15-1 1-0-4-0 2-0-9-0 1-0-18-0), Maharoof 10-1-19-1 (6-1-12-1 4-0-7-0), Jayawardene 3-0-16-0 (w1) (one spell), Chandana 9-0-64-0 (w5) (3-0-17-0 5-0-25-0 1-0-22-0), Jayasuriya 4-0-23-0 (2-0-11-0 1-0-6-0 1-0-6-0), Dilshan 4-0-15-0 (one spell).

Progress: Second day: 150: 165 min, 238 balls. 200: 190 min, 274 balls. 250: 209 min, 297 balls. Innings closed: 11.28am.

Trescothick 50: 110 min, 74 balls, 7 fours.

Flintoff 50: 89 min, 69 balls, 5 fours. 100: 119 min, 89 balls, 8 fours, 3 sixes.

Sri Lanka

D A Gunawardene c Jones b Harmison 5

(Edged perfect-length seaming ball to keeper; 15 min, 16 balls, 1 four)

S T Jayasuriya c Gough b Flintoff 27

(Leaping catch at mid-off to lofted drive; 56 min, 32 balls, 3 fours)

*M S Atapattu c Jones b Harmison 1

(Edged lifting ball to keeper; 7 min, 7 balls)

W S Jayantha c Jones b Flintoff 23

(Edged behind trying to run ball to third man; 67 min, 38 balls, 2 fours)

ÝK C Sangakkara not out 17

(59 min, 40 balls, 2 fours)

D P M D Jayawardene c and b Giles 7

(Taken at third attempt from straight drive; 17 min, 15 balls)

T M Dilshan not out 2

(6 min, 2 balls)

Extras (lb5 w2 nb6) 13

Total (for 5, 24 overs) 95

Fall: 1-11 (Gunawardene), 2-15 (Atapattu), 3-49 (Jayasuriya), 4-74 (Jayantha), 5-88 (Jayawardene).

To bat: U D U Chandana, W P U J C Vaas, M F Maharoof, D N T Zoysa.

Bowling: Gough 6-1-19-0, Harmison 6-1-21-2 (w1), Flintoff 5-0-21-2 (nb2), Wharf 5-1-20-0 (nb4, w1), Giles 1-0-2-1, Collingwood 1-0-7-0 (one spell each).

Progress: Second day: 50: 60 min, 79 balls. 15 overs: 65-3. Rain stopped play: 1.35pm

England won by 49 runs (D/L method)

Man of the match: A Flintoff

Umpires: B F Bowden (NZ) and D B Hair(Aus).

TV umpire: B Doctrove (WI). Referee: M J Procter (SA).

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