Anything is possible for England now. The victory against Australia yesterday, which has given them a 1-0 lead in the Ashes, a risible prospect a week ago, has converted a summer of mild hope to one of rampant optimism.
If there are reasons to be cautious, not least because their two most illustrious players are both being debilitated by injury, the 115-run defeat of Australia in the second Test was clinical in its execution and stunning in its conclusion. The fifth and final morning at Lord's belonged to Andrew Flintoff.
In 10 overs of raw pace and hostility allied to perfect length and direction he defied the pain from his right knee and drove England onward to triumph at a ground where they had not prevailed against Australia for 75 years. The occasion was made for Flintoff, who will retire from Test cricket at the end of the series and, if it was not certain before, it is now inevitable that his farewell tour of the country in this series will be accompanied by attention approaching hysteria.
Flintoff seems well equipped to deal with it if his endeavours yesterday are any measure and after taking a wicket with the 10th ball of the day, his fourth, the well-founded fears that Australia might yet make history of their own receded.
That decisive breakthrough, which removed the stubbornly adhesive Brad Haddin ensured that Flintoff would bowl until the deed was done.
The quietly elated captain, Andrew Strauss, said: "After he took that first wicket this morning he said, 'By the way, I ought to let you know I'll keep bowling until all the wickets are gone.' That sounded like a good plan to me and so it proved."
The final day began with Australia on 313 for 5, requiring another 209 to win, 104 more than had been made before in the fourth innings to win a Test match. Haddin and the centurion Michael Clarke had offered a glimmer of hope that it could be done. Flintoff was given wonderful support by some intelligent off-spin bowling by Graeme Swann, who cast off the cares of the opening Test in Cardiff, and finished with four second-innings wickets.
The trick for England now is to avoid getting too far ahead of themselves. Having recovered so adroitly from their inept performance in Cardiff, whence they somehow escaped with a draw, they must ensure that Australia are allowed no easy way back. Ricky Ponting, Australia's captain was characteristically gallant in defeat yesterday, but said: "Both teams are very evenly matched. A lot of Test matches are won with what happens in the first hour's play, there's no doubting that, so we'll have to make sure it doesn't happen again."
Flintoff insists he will play whatever his body does but there was no question that he struggled at times in this match. Of graver concern to England may be Kevin Pietersen's achilles injury but he too is adamant that he will be fit. They both sounded as if they will take up their beds and walk if necessary. They may need to. But England now know they can win.Reuse content