Flintoff ready to take chance to thrive

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The Independent Online

For all his huge physical presence, Andrew Flintoff has kept the world waiting for him to shake up the cricket world.

But at last there are signs that this particular giant is stirring. The first indications came during England's winter tour to India and New Zealand where Flintoff returned Test-best figures with the ball of 4 for 50 on the Sub-continent before unleashing his powers with the bat to record his maiden Test hundred at Christchurch, a feat followed up by a solid half-century in the second Test at Wellington.

Those performances and a marked maturity in his approach to his professional life have earned him a central contract and, tomorrow, a chance to treat the cricket world to a rather more unexpected shock.

Should England opt for four seamers for the opening Npower Test against Sri Lanka at Lord's, which appears the most likely option, there is every chance that Flintoff will stride out to bat at seven, ahead of the most experienced England batsman in the team, Alec Stewart.

If that idea sounds preposterous, don't take from anyone else, hear from it the old war-horse's mouth. "I am not stupid," says the 39-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman Stewart, "Andrew Flintoff cracked a hundred in New Zealand and he's just smacked us [Surrey] for a hundred at The Oval. From a selfish point of view I want to bat higher, but if it means batting at No 8 so be it. So you may just have a bloke who averages nearly 40 in Tests – me – volunteering as nightwatchman!"

But Flintoff is an all-rounder and he wants to try to marry his talents into the same series, if not the same match. For all his achievements in India and New Zealand he is looking to get it all together if not in the same match then at least in the same series. "I hope I can get my batting and bowling to come together at the same time," he says. And while the bowling has probably been steadier than the batting, Flintoff is working hard to achieve levels of consistency that will make him the match-winner he so clearly could be.

On the batting front in particular he has been putting in a lot of hard work and thought. "The thing that I have been striving for all my career is consistency," admits Flintoff. "I have played a knock here, a knock there, but I have been trying to find a way of scoring runs day-in, day-out.

"The way things went with the bat in India, where I could hardly get the ball off the square, there were times when I was pretty low. But those innings in New Zealand restored my confidence and made me realise I can perform at this level and I want to build on that."

Flintoff's concluded: "There are days when everything comes off for you, but in between I've not done a great deal; days when I have been struggling, scratching around. The idea is that even when it is not my day I should still be able to contribute 30 or 40 runs to the team effort."

He will not neglect the other aspects of his game though and however important those two innings in New Zealand were, he will also have taken great encouragement from his all-round performance for Lancashire against Surrey with a venomous 137 – including a 106-ball century – the ninth of his first-class career.

He then showed Surrey that he is no slouch with the ball, generating bounce and pace off The Oval track and wrapping up a great solo show with a blinding slip catch to dismiss his England colleague Mark Butcher. He has a chance to put all of it into the Test tomorrow and if the earth moves do not be surprised.