Flintoff buoyed by improved team effort

After the concerns voiced over his recent social schedule, Andrew Flintoff would have only to be spotted yawning here yesterday to spark another minor frenzy of wagging tongues.

Having left the first Test at Lord's with question marks over his tactical acumen, the revelation that he has subsequently taken in at least five celebrity engagements was the last thing he needed.

Whether taking a helicopter flight to watch boxing in Belfast and going to David Beckham's World Cup party, among other things, amounted to taking his eye off the ball stood to be judged, therefore, on how he performed on day one in Birmingham. Or, rather, how his team performed.

He was accused at Lord's of letting the game drift, of overbowling himself and underbowling others. Yet had England's fielders not dropped nine catches his captaincy would scarcely have merited a mention.

Yesterday, although three catches went down, another eight stuck, nine if the one Flintoff grasped himself off a Liam Plunkett no-ball is counted. Nothing underpins the quality of captaincy so effectively as players doing their job.

Flintoff, though, can take credit for making things happen. He was spared the decision of whether to bat or field first, but his bowling changes were effective, beginning with his early self-sacrifice, when he recognised that conditions were ideal for Plunkett and took himself off after three overs.

Plunkett's sixth ball brought a wicket when Paul Collingwood snapped up Michael Vandort at fourth slip.

It set a pattern for the day, Flintoff defeating Tillekeratne Dilshan with his first ball after lunch and Panesar appearing for the first time in the 49th over to trap Lasith Malinga.

Panesar owed his teammates that one, having made the howler of the day when spilling the most routine of routine catches to let Malinga escape before he had scored, in what was itself the first over of Plunkett's first afternoon spell.

Poor Monty. The spinner's principal skill may have huge potential but his fielding would embarrass a club player.

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