Flintoff's fireworks silence the sledgers

Fifth Test: All-rounder sets tone for day of English domination with explosive 95 in morning session
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The Independent Online

The expectations have been great since Andrew Flintoff burst onto the first-class scene eight seasons ago but this summer it is the performances which have drawn the superlatives.

Following yesterday's explosive knock of 95, Flintoff admitted that he might finally have won some respect from the South Africans. "They are a hard bunch of characters," the 26-year-old said after a trying period of sledging at the crease. "They are at you all the time, I don't think they think I am very good, to be honest. They question everything I do."

But if the verbal exchanges, in particular those with Jacques Kallis, his opposite number, have been sparky, they have been nothing compared with what Flintoff has done to haul England back into this match.

That they are on the brink of possibly squaring the series owes much to Flintoff's team-mates, but yesterday morning's clinical savagery with the bat, followed by half-a-dozen overs of controlled, aggressive bowling marked the Lancashire man out as having come of age in Test cricket.

He agreed: "I have matured as a batsman and probably as a person. I am beginning to realise more what it takes to score runs at this level."

The proof of that lies in his figures in this series. To date Flintoff has scored 423 runs and is averaging a shade under 53, and he has passed fifty in his last three innings. "It's been a huge summer for me," he said.

Further evidence of his growing wisdom lies in the way he masterminded the strike, with Steve Harmison. "Harmy said he would do whatever I asked of him. And he did. In fact, in between overs it was Harmy who was telling me to steady things."

Flintoff was close to a second century in the rubber yesterday when he was bowled by Jimmy Adams just five runs short of three figures. But by then he had created more than two hours of mayhem for the South Africans, smashing four sixes, the longest of which sailed into the upper tier of the Laker-Lock Stand. The dozen fours brought his total of runs from boundaries to 72.

Reaching the milestone would have represented a just reward for Flintoff, who had to nurse his last two partners after losing Martin Bicknell to the third ball of the day. But missing out on his ton mattered little to the Lancashire all-rounder. "It would have been great to have got to a hundred," he admitted, "but personal milestones don't count for much in a Test series. I wasn't too bothered."

Of far greater concern is that today's forecasted rain holds off long enough to allow England to win. "I'd hate to think that my efforts had all been in vain," he said. "It would be massive for us if we could level the series."