Flintoff still has the vital force of old
Talisman defies wear and tear to threaten Australia's 75-year run in north London
Saturday 18 July 2009
It was not ever thus. Too often, during the years when those bullock's ribs seemed to house too big a heart for the good of his own limbs, Andrew Flintoff has had to shore up the porous bowling of his comrades.
But here, you could tell, he wanted to bequeath something for the home of cricket to remember him by. Here he was, in full cry, pounding in from the Pavilion End – not just as England's talisman, as always, but also as their premier strike bowler. If it was not exactly for the first time, then the poignant certainty was that it was very nearly the last.
At Cardiff, Andrew Strauss had persevered in the timid old habit of using Flintoff not as the crowbar, but as the safe. The England captain instead opened the bowling with Stuart Broad, still a work in progress, and watched him naïvely serve Phillip Hughes a series of choice cuts on a silver tray. When the old master came on to sort out the Australian rookie, we were rewarded with a cameo that acquired a vintage quality on the eve of this match, when Flintoff formally acknowledged that his own Test career had all but run its course. This time, Strauss had him on at once. And while it was James Anderson who made the breakthrough at the other end, Flintoff unmistakably contributed with the conspicuous freedom of his effort. He ended a six-over spell before lunch, for six runs, with the fastest ball of the match so far at 94mph. Given a similar spell after tea, he crowned another unfettered blitz by ending Michael Hussey's ominous renaissance with one of 95mph.
Hussey had not offered a shot, just like Strauss himself when succumbing to the second ball of the day. Either moment had the potential to distil the fortunes of the day. The first implied an end to the butterflies which had palsied the Australian bowlers, reckoned the greenest at this ground since 1948. While Peter Siddle evidently had more specific reasons for his nausea, it seemed the stomach for a fight had returned.
Instead, however, it would be Hussey's identical omission that served as a formal notice of eviction to the Australians after a 75-year leasehold here. The "leave" is one of the game's most expressive arts, and one laced with peculiar peril on this ground. Strauss and Hussey had scored 212 runs between them when abruptly contriving to make themselves look chumps.
At its best, leaving the ball can be a marvellous flourish of contempt. In some batsmen, the manoeuvre is too studied or elaborate, and betrays the kinship between control and wariness. The ideal "leave" is a more superb gesture, one that implies indifference to the bowler's most ardent endeavours. My manservant can fetch that one, old chap. Flintoff, however, has never been the sort of bowler to be played in a silk dressing gown. Yesterday his very follow-through was demonic. He came pounding towards the batsman, decelerating with lazily swaying heels, that humorous look in his eye. Unlike a lot of quick bowlers, he has never taken himself seriously enough to play the angry troll; hence, no doubt, the memorable fellowship he shared in 2005 with a bowler of corresponding virtues in Brett Lee.
It has long been the paradox of Freddie, of course, that he has matched the levity of the pedalo to the unsparing professionalism of his serial rehabilitations, not to mention that brutal workload when fit. In the same way, his innate wit as an athlete has somehow been harnessed to a physique that never entirely shed an air of clumsiness. The earth shakes beneath him, but you sense the concussion through the gristle holding his shin in place, at the ankle and the knee, and wince.
His achievements as an all-rounder have frequently been overstated, as we saw again when he batted in the first innings. In many ways, he and New Zealand all-rounder Jacob Oram are cut from similar cloth. But you would not so much measure Freddie's presence by statistics, as by the proprietorial way he bestrides the wicket after a kill, as he did so often in 2005, and again here – rocking back with his chest puffed, and his arms raised. And that, of course, is the way we will remember him.
Turning points: How the action unfolded at Lord's
*11.01am: Death rattle
Andrew Strauss shoulders arms to the second ball of the day and hears the death rattle as the ball swings and hits off stump. He should have seen it coming: Strauss has never added more than six the following morning to an overnight hundred.
*11.31am: Sickly Siddle
Peter Siddle, tough guy of the Australian side, leaves the field with a dicky tummy after apparently trying and failing to be sick on the Lord's outfield (which would probably have been a first at the old place and is something MCC members would surely not have countenanced even five years ago).
*11.40am: Jimmy drives
After the loss of three early wickets, Jimmy Anderson brings up England's 400 with a glorious cover drive and several other Australians are beginning to feel sick.
*12.39am: Jimmy strikes
Ricky Ponting departs in a wave of confusion. Anderson appeals for leg before but then the umpire Rudi Koertzen, in his 100th match, asks the third umpire if the ball had carried to Strauss at first slip. Told it had, he gives Ponting out caught. Australia's captain sticks to the spirit of the game.
Session: England win
*1.50pm: Reign delay
Play begins 10 minutes late after the teams meet The Queen, who changes her normal habit of arriving at Lord's Tests at teatime.
*2.04pm: New light
Her Majesty is able to witness history as the floodlights come on at Lord's during a Test match for the first time.
*2.53pm: Advance Australia
The second break for rain lasts 47 minutes but Australia's rhythm is unaffected.
Session: Australia win
*4.57pm: Katich caught
Stuart Broad takes a wonderful diving catch at deep square to remove Simon Katich. And off the bowling of Graham Onions, too. It's enough to bring a tear to the eye.
*5.15pm: Shouldering arms
Mike Hussey catches the "playing no shot" disease as Fred nips one back.
*6.16pm: Haddin's had it
Alastair Cook takes his third catch of the day as the Aussie wicketkeeper mis-times a pull off Stuart Broad's bowling. That's six wickets for 49 runs in 16 overs in an astonishing spell for England.
Session: England win.
There have been eight hat-tricks taken in Ashes matches – four on each side. England's most recent treble was from Darren Gough at Sydney in January 1999, while Shane Warne struck in Melbourne in December 1994.
From Alec Stewart's Cricket Companion (Corinthian, £16.99). To order a copy for £15.29 (inc P&P) visit www.independentbooksdirect.co.uk
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