Flintoff now the one and only

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The Independent Online

Whether it wins the match for England remains to be seen, but it certainly put them in a position to do so and transform the Ashes series. It was, he said, "probably my best day in Test cricket".

But don't call him the new Ian Botham, though Henry Blofeld was sufficiently carried away to refer to him Flintoff as Botham on Test Match Special. He resists any comparison: "I'm Andrew Flintoff and this is the way I play," he said.

Yesterday he set the record for the most sixes scored in a single Ashes Test. His last was his ninth. At Old Trafford in 1981, Botham scored a mere six. And that was before his all round heroics of two wickets in his first over in the afternoon, with one more to follow. "Probably the best I've ever bowled. I was probably still on a high," he said. At this rate, a knighthood won't be good enough for him.

He came in at No 7 when England's fifth wicket had fallen at 72. The lead was 171 and Australia were favourites for the first time since the match began.

At 12.10, when he had scored seven, there was a painful twist in the plot. Flintoff executed an extravagant cut at a ball turning away from the off stump from Shane Warne. "I tried to get my left arm out of my way too quick," he said. He turned away from the wicket and sat on his haunches, before walking towards the dressing room. "At first I thought the shoulder had come out." Kirk Russell, the England physio, ran out, prodded the shoulder, and then gingerly raised the left arm to shoulder height. It was not a dislocation, but the injury looked serious. Back at the crease, Flintoff was favouring his left arm. His manner was subdued. He was not tentative exactly - he wouldn't know how to spell tentative - but his strokes were underpowered compared to his normal dashing style.

He says he felt uncomfortable for half an hour. The ambulance that stood by was not needed. His timing was not quite right for a while after lunch. When Brett Lee tried to bounce him, Flintoff ducked under the ball rather than hit it for six, as he had in his first innings 68. But he looked restored.

While he waits for the bowler to begin his run-up, Flintoff stands erect, leaning slightly backwards and holding his bat in front of him, like a club. As the bowler arrives at the crease he grounds his bat before moving his feet, forward mostly.

Soon after lunch, he lost his sixth-wicket partner, Geraint Jones. With the score at 101, there was only Ashley Giles and the tail to come. Diagnosis? Position slightly improved, but still fragile.

Now he had some luck. All great players have luck. They deserve it. Lee was bowling fast and accurately, as he had all day, and he caught the edge of the bat twice; first time the ball went through the slips, second time, an inside edge to fine leg. Both boundaries.

He and Giles inched towards a total they could defend, adding 30 until Giles edged to slip off Warne. Harmison was out first ball. Warne had five-for and England still did not have enough runs.

That was when the assault started. Michael Kasprowicz came on and in his first over Flintoff hit two towering sixes, one to long-on, another to mid-wicket. His 50 had taken 64 balls. When Lee came back on, Ricky Ponting, whose principal reaction had been to chew his gum a little faster, ordered all his fielders to the boundary, with the exception of the keeper. It is the greatest compliment a captain can pay a batsman.

He must have nearly choked when the attack reached its climax - straight six, four at third man off a no- ball, six on to the Pavilion roof - 17 in the over, by which time the last-wicket stand with Simon Jones had reached 49.

Their astonishing 50 partnership had taken 40 balls and the game had been turned upside down. As Shane Warne said after the day's play, the momentum had shifted to England.

Kasprowicz applauded Flintoff as we walked off, having been bowled for 73. The crowd yelled "Super, Super Fred, Super Freddy Flintoff". Flintoff said the crowd is as good as a 12th man. "They can always sense when you need a lift."

And the atmosphere in the dressing-room? "Buoyant," he said. Thanks mainly to the one and only Andrew Flintoff.