Flintoff saddled with mission improbable

Fourth Test: Need is for young all-rounder to be brilliant and consistent

It is five summers since Andrew Flintoff was summoned by England as the latest kid all-rounder on the block. He could have been finished by now, through a combination of injury, fecklessness and misfortune, washed up on the same tide as the other flotsam of 1998: Godzilla, the Spice Girls, Dr Jozef Venglos. Instead, "Freddie" Flintoff is just beginning.

Flintoff, 25 matches down the line as a Test cricketer in a period when England have played 60, has arrived. He fulfils the main criterion for his occupation: he is worth his place as both batsman and bowler. He is getting results, he is the fulcrum of the team. Yet his buccaneering 55 yesterday and his fast, aggressive bowling later managed to embrace his frailty as well as his fortitude.

Having nurtured him for so long, England also need him. When they are having the worst of matters, as they did for much of yesterday, he has to take responsibility for showing the way. This was a crucial season for him, and therefore for England. Had he failed to advance, a whole strategy would have been down the pan.

He began the summer with averages of below 20 with the bat and almost 50 with the ball. If all-rounders had to apply for their jobs, those are the sort of details on the CV that might have potential employers reaching for the wastepaper basket and the stock rejection letter.

Although it may not always seem so, England selectors try to be a little more flexible. But Flintoff remains an irritating cricketer as well as an endearing one. His innings yesterday ensured that England faced a first-innings deficit of only 35, but the way he was batting suggested that he could give them a lead of a similar margin.

He struck the ball venomously as usual, but there were a couple of miscued shots that must have put his heart in his mouth as well as the ball in the air. He went to his half-century with a dismissive pull to mid-wicket, his third six. Then, with nine wickets down, he was bowled stepping back to Makhaya Ntini, making enough room to build a four-bedroom house.

Perhaps Flintoff decided that with one wicket left on an increasingly untrustworthy pitch he needed to be expansive. Flintoff had been so bruisingly effective beforehand (his runs came from 68 scored while he was in) that it was difficult to be critical. And when he is retired, these mildly irresponsible, often devastating shots that he plays will be the subject of much affectionate recollection.

What a card, we shall say, just as the tales of Denis Compton's poor running between the wickets and his apparent, if apocryphal, tendency to roll up for the start of play still in his dinner jacket are related so fondly. How they must have driven colleagues and spectators up the wall at the time.

When South Africa batted, Flintoff bowled with passion and speed. He meant it all right, but he went unrewarded. For all his pace, he may not quite move the ball sufficiently in the air or off the pitch, but he is not a lucky bowler. One day soon he will take a large haul, or we shall forever mention his bowling misfortunes.

Flintoff is still only 25 and about to enter his pomp, which should last for eight years or so. Throughout that time he will remain the subject of intense debate because of his importance to the side. At present, this scrutiny is manifesting itself in his precise position in the order.

He is No 7, and there is a considerable body of opinion that he should be No 6. The difference between six and seven in a Test-match batting order is much more than a single digit. It can get people terribly hot under the collar: one could be said to be the last recognised batsman, the other the start of the non-batsmen.

The all-rounder to whom all other England all-rounders are likened is, of course, the great Ian you-know-who. It is frequently said that until somebody like him comes along, who can bowl as prodigiously and bat at No 6, England will struggle to achieve consistent success.

Maybe so, but while it is true that Botham, for it was he, played 94 of his 161 Test innings at six, he was also at No 7 36 times. Indeed, his finest hours, against Australia in 1981, came when he was at seven.

England have made a fist of this series, but it has been tough. There are five different players in this side from the line-up who took on Zimbabwe in the opening Test of the summer. The presence of Martin Bicknell and Kabir Ali in this match took the number of players used this summer to 18. Of those, six have been debutants, only two of whom have had a place at the Academy.

If the Academy is to be worth the cash, that sort of policy cannot continue, but it was correct to recall Bicknell at the age of 34. He last played in 1993, and in terms of matches has now overtaken Younis Ahmed as the player with the longest gap in his career. Younis was absent for 104 Pakistan games, Bicknell waited while England played 115 Tests.

Other splendid English seam bowlers have been similarly ignored before: Derek Shackleton was recalled after nearly 12 years, Les Jackson played his two Tests almost 12 years apart. The question arises: have England really had that many straighter seamers than Bicknell in the interim?

Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
Life and Style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
Life and Style
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits