Flintoff discovers his true position

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The Independent Online

Andrew Flintoff's apparent coming of age as a Test batsman must be kept in perspective. Before the first Test between England and New Zealand here, his highest score was 42 and his batting average just over 13.

During this winter his bowling has improved enormously and before this innings his categorisation was as a bowler who can bat – a bit.

In India against the spinners he had been made to look naive and ridiculous in equal measure. He then made a little more impact in the one-day matches, but he was unable to sustain this improvement in the one-day series against New Zealand.

Then his nought in the first innings here at Lancaster Park made it seem that he was too highly placed even at No 7. In the second innings when Mark Ramprakash was fifth out at 108 and Flintoff's ambling gait brought him on to the ground, it looked as if the end was not far away.

He was helped by some full half-volleys early on that he dispatched to the boundary as if the ball was being fired from a cannon. This gave him the confidence he has so desperately sought and which has, for so long, eluded him as far as his batting has been concerned. The rest is now history.

The most foolish and absurd response to this innings would be for anyone to suggest that he must now be thought of as a future No 6 or even 5. It would be even more stupid than that to think of him as another Ian Botham.

Flintoff showed in this innings that he is a natural No 7, just as Adam Gilchrist is in the Australian side. Within the last week Gilchrist himself has laughed at suggestions that he should go in higher and has insisted that he should remain at No 7.

A No 5 or even a No 6 cannot bat as Gilchrist has been doing in South Africa or as Flintoff did yesterday. These two are positions for specialist batsmen who must behave as specialist batsmen. The explosive power of a Gilchrist or a Flintoff is a luxury which can very quickly turn a match on its head as these two have done within the last week.

It would be irresponsible for a No 5 or 6 to bat like this. But should these specialists fail as they all but did at Lancaster Park, a batsman of the ability of either of them must be allowed his head.

Flintoff's innings was high class. It was power and thunderous stroke-play – not slogging – and in no time at all he had demoralised a New Zealand attack which had the bad luck to be missing the injured Chris Cairns. This innings has been a huge step forward for Flintoff – and for England – who will now come out to bat for his country with the confidence which comes from knowing he can do it.

Doing it involves playing maiden overs as well as hitting sixes and Flintoff has now shown he can do both. Beyond a doubt he is a Test all-rounder and, just as certainly, bowlers all round the world will need to take him seriously, and maybe before too long, as seriously as they've had to take Gilchrist.

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