Flintoff's fatherly leadership traps Indians in 'Ring of Fire'

Andrew Flintoff will see his new-born son for the first time today after leading England to one of their greatest and most improbable victories here yesterday. What a story he will have to tell Corey when he arrives home in Cheshire about how a stand-in, third choice captain, with a patched-up, second string side, inspired by the Johnny Cash song "Ring of Fire", managed to draw a Test series 1-1 after coming from behind in the most intimidating surroundings in world cricket. Even a two-week old might doubt the veracity.

Invited to compare yesterday's win by 212 runs in the third Test with the Ashes triumph Flintoff did not demur. "Last summer was huge wasn't it, but to come out here to India with the problems we had before the series and then with a lot of young lads coming in this is definitely up there," he said. "It was the manner in which we played. We're a young team and we've taken on India and won here for the first time in 20 years."

Flintoff's stock, if anything, stands higher than it did at the end of the epic summer. In India, he assumed emergency command after both captain, Michael Vaughan, and vice-captain, Marcus Trescothick, left the tour because of injury and personal reasons respectively. He was confronted with other injuries and illnesses of the sort that seem to inevitably afflict touring teams in India, and when they went 1-0 down a week ago in Mohali the series seemed to be heading down the pan in every way.

The whole of India expected the series to be a formality. There was an air of disbelief and anger when they were bowled out for 100 yesterday afternoon, losing their last seven wickets for 25 runs in 89 balls. England's 37-year-old off-spinner, Shaun Udal, a veteran of all of four Tests, took 4 for 14 including the key wicket of Sachin Tendulkar.

Somehow, Flintoff through a mix of inspiring personal performance and shrewd leadership, was convinced his side could claw their way back. "I honestly thought we had a chance," he said. "We spoke about what went on in Mohali and realised that we weren't that far away. We played some great cricket and competed with India. At times we had the better of them.

"The bowlers have been magnificent and it was a just case that we had to score a few more runs. The one thing we asked for was that the batters go on and score big hundreds, and Andrew Strauss was magnificent."

Strauss's 128 was crucial but Flintoff was man of the match and series for his four consecutive fifties and 11 wickets. He celebrated with his team after the win but had already booked a flight out to see his son. He will spend a few days at home with his wife, Rachael, daughter Holly and Corey before returning for the one-day series starting next week, although he was reluctant to reveal details.

"I just want a quiet life," he said. "To lead the lads out there was a pleasure. Me and Rachael made the decision a few weeks ago that I was going to stay and captain the side the whole series. That's what I wanted to do and that's what Rachael wanted me to do. Winning makes it all the more worth it, but you might not get the chance to captain your country again."

There will be calls for Flintoff to keep the captain's job. England's former titanic all-rounder, Ian Botham, who did not make a successful fist of his time at the helm, was leading the charge last night. Flintoff was having none of it."This is Michael Vaughan's side and as soon as he's fit he's captain again," he said. "I enjoy playing under him, he's done a great job for three years, we've had a great run for three weeks."

Flintoff and England's cause were undoubtedly helped by the decision of India's captain, Rahul Dravid, to field on winning the toss. Dravid, the model of chivalry, conceded that he would have done things differently. "But we could have played much better cricket and our top order batting let us down in both innings and probably throughout the series," he said. "We were beaten by a better team. England weren't a full strength side but it is the type of cricket they play that's important not whether they are second string or third string.

"Andrew Flintoff deserved the man of the series award. Every time he went out to bat he scored runs, he was their best bowler throughout and he is the greatest all-rounder in the world." All Flintoff wanted to be last night is the best dad in the world.

The captain's fantastic: What they said about Flintoff

* He's my man of the match, he's my man of the series, he's my man of the century. Vic Marks, on "Test Match Special"

* As a bowler he understands us - not like the batsmen, who flog us! It's nice to have a fast bowler as a captain. Matthew Hoggard, England bowler

* The players have clearly played for him and he has put his name in the hat should Michael Vaughan's knee not recover. Michael Atherton, former England captain

* I don't know if it's Freddie's captaincy or luck but with every bowling change he has made I've taken a wicket. James Anderson, England bowler

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