Flintoff slow to savour delicacies

The brouhaha about Andy Flintoff's involvement with the bathroom scales has at last died down. In the space of a few days he went from overweight dolt who clocked in at 17 stones plus to swashbuckling hero on the basis of an adventurous 42 not out in a one-day game against Zimbabwe at Old Trafford.

The brouhaha about Andy Flintoff's involvement with the bathroom scales has at last died down. In the space of a few days he went from overweight dolt who clocked in at 17 stones plus to swashbuckling hero on the basis of an adventurous 42 not out in a one-day game against Zimbabwe at Old Trafford.

It all seemed too puerile for words, almost as if Just William had suddenly made a reappearance. Flintoff is a big man and always will be. No amount of dieting is going to give him a sylph-like figure anymore than it would have done to Colin Cowdrey or Colin Milburn, who could both play a bit.

Flintoff has an unusual ability too. But while his powerful, exuberant strokeplay is, these days, as unusual as it is refreshing it is not on its own enough. Naked talent by itself can be a dangerous and irritating commodity. If the rough edges are not smoothed down it can be hopelessly wasted.

Flintoff has a great talent to hit a cricket ball but he has not been taught - at least he has not yet learned - the need to temper it with discipline. This involves the ability to decide which is the ball to hit as well as the situation in which it is right to try and give it the most fearful tonk. To come in as Flintoff did at The Oval when England's middle-order was in a tangle against Zimbabwe and to hole out at once to long-off was ridiculous. This sparked the furore which caused him to be promoted to No 3 at Old Trafford, where he played precisely the type of innings he had set out to play at The Oval.

This time he got away with it. Early on, an attempted drive screwed just over extra cover's head and a big swing deposited the ball inches over long-on's outstretched hands for six. Nothing had changed. On another day either or both would have gone to hand.

Yet Flintoff was universally absolved simply because this innings came off. Now, at Edgbaston, he had another go. He drove over gulley, he flailed and missed, he snicked in the air between wicketkeeper and first slip and he was later badly dropped at first slip. All this before he was out for 24.

Flintoff and his advisors and counsellors in the Lancashire camp as well as the England dressing-room must put their heads together.

Almost anything can be justified in one-day cricket. And Flintoff's biff, bang, wallop is fine. But surely with his talent he wants to aim for a better epitaph than that.

One-day cricket is an exhibition; Test cricket an examination. It is in relation to his performances in the latter that Flintoff will be ultimately judged. Making runs in Test cricket is much more about keeping out good bowling than biffing indifferent bowling - fun though that may be.

It is also about batting to plan. At the moment, Flintoff only has Plan A, which is to hit the ball as hard as he can whenever he can. No one wants to curb natural ability and enthusiasm, but it must be tempered if it is to prosper. It is high time Flintoff began to work this out, both for his own and everyone else's enjoyment.

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