Flintoff's eyes glaze over again as captain flogs talisman into ground

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The Independent Online

There was a glazed, faraway look in Andrew Flintoff's eyes yesterday morning. It was familiar from those photographs taken after "Fred" had attempted to drink London dry during the post-Ashes euphoria.

But this was not the expression of a man who had taken strong liquor. If he had wanted it, and the way Pakistan were batting was enough to turn anybody to drink, he could not have obtained it easily in this neck of the woods. No, these were the hollow, bewildered features of a man who was all but spent.

Flintoff had bowled himself into the ground. There were 36 overs of resolute slog as Pakistan's remorseless progress on the third afternoon turned into a casual assault on the fourth morning. In 28 overs and four balls, Pakistan added 190 runs. To put that in to some kind of context, it would put them on course for 400 in a limited-overs match and here fielders were spread around the boundary like policemen in a search party.

It was not a lone effort by Flintoff. His great, almost inseparable friend Stephen Harmison delivered 43 overs in spell after spell of accurate, probing, fast bowling. With England being plundered, he still managed to snake one past Kamran Akmal's bat.

Memory recollected that he had done something similar to Brian Lara in Antigua when Lara was approaching 300 on his way to 400. To no avail then as now. There had been little avail for Harmison throughout the innings. Nobody shirked but, for the rest of England's attack, it was, by comparison, a routine day at the office.

True, in Liam Plunkett's case, it was the first week in a new job and he was given more responsibility than might have been expected. Rather than making the tea, he was entrusted with speaking to clients and writing a few reports. But it was still Flintoff and Harmison who were out there trying to get the new business, working the long hours. Looking at them, and looking especially at the future BBC sports personality of the year, it was possible to wonder what was going on.

Not why Pakistan were creating such mayhem. They were batting wonderfully on a benign pitch, having paced matters impeccably. They had not rushed in to the sweet shop like England. They had seen the candy, doubtless sized it up, but they had not attempted to gorge themselves immediately.

The concern was why, in these circumstances, England's key pair, and Flintoff in particular, were still being asked to bowl. Pakistan were ready to take anybody on at this stage. Somebody else, anybody else could have taken the hit.

Flintoff has bowled 140 overs in this three-match series, only 54 fewer than he bowled in the Ashes, Harmison has sent down 122.5, 38 fewer. It is what they do, but Michael Vaughan, their captain, was perhaps asking too much with a match still to be saved and a jam-packed one-day series starting next week.

Vaughan has had an indifferent time, albeit involving only two Tests. He has occasionally looked in touch with the bat but runs have been scarce and he was bamboozled yesterday by a slower ball from Shoaib Akhtar. Another technical glitch may have arisen, his right knee is sore, and he is going home tonight to be with his wife Nichola, for the birth of their second baby.

A few of the retinue that accompanies any touring party - press, television, hangers-on, that sort of thing - are intending to spend a couple of days in jolly Dubai next week before the limited-overs jamboree. That sort of excursion will probably ensure that Fred Flintoff's faraway look may not be disappearing early.