Forget the ankle, it's his heart causing Flintoff's pain now
Wednesday 06 December 2006
As Andrew Flintoff forlornly attempted to absorb the magnitude of England's defeat in the second Test he said: "It's not the ankle that's hurting at the moment." It was a poignant comment embodying the stunning reversal of fortune that had just taken place.
It had been barely half an hour since England's beleaguered captain had hobbled from the field on his painful left foot but that was relegated to minor stuff. It was his heart that was in agony.
Flintoff said that on leaving the field after being beaten: "I was a little bit shocked." Anybody else involved in or observing England's disintegration, engineered by a tour de force from Shane Warne, could hardly believe what they were seeing. Dismay approached stupefaction.
Only Paul Collingwood offered prolonged resistance, battling for three hours and 18 minutes for an unbeaten 22 and paradoxically alone in not suffering from the collywobbles. Australia cantered to victory unfussed by the odd alarm, with Mike Hussey making an immaculate unbeaten 61.
Warne said: "It's the greatest Test I have ever played. I don't think I can bowl any better than I did today. I'm knackered and my shoulder and fingers are pretty sore. But I love being in situations like this. It's not a case of being driven, I just want to play my role and I knew conditions were in my favour. As much as the body was beginning to tire the adrenalin starts."
During his long spell in intense heat, Warne yielded only 29 runs and it became clear later that something else apart from the promise of improbable victory was spurring him. He was irritated by comments made by England's coach, Duncan Fletcher, after Australia's victory in the first Test that England had played him pretty well and gifted him a couple of wickets.
"I read the rubbish that Duncan Fletcher talked about England playing me well," said Warne. "It's obviously a lot different in the first two days of a Test match when the wicket is pretty flat and you get guys like Paul Collingwood and Kevin Pietersen playing exceptionally. I thought Pietersen was the only one who played me well in the first Test. If I bowl like that for the rest of the series I might cause Duncan Fletcher's boys a bit of trouble."
England should consider that as a warning, which is much easier to unravel than Warne's bowling. He means business and with the Perth pitch, where the third Test is to be played, taking turn these days, it is difficult to envisage a swift riposte by the tourists. Poor Captain Flintoff had almost as much trouble marshalling his thoughts as his troops.
"For four days we played some fantastic cricket," he said. "I think it's obvious we lost it in an hour this morning, when the game got away from us. For four and a half days we gave everything. The lads are bitterly, bitterly disappointed. I know what I'm feeling and I don't want to feel like this again so it's a big incentive."
Questions will inevitably be raised in the coming days about Flintoff's captaincy, the state of his ankle and the side that he and Duncan Fletcher picked between them. But it is important also to reflect the influence of Australia in England's downfall. They applied pressure which England could not resist. If anything symbolised this, it was the needless run-out of Ian Bell. As he left the field shaking his head in disbelief, the corresponding Australian belief in their destiny was just about visible to the naked eye.
Ricky Ponting, the Australian captain and man of the match for his first innings century in adversity, said: "We're very happy and excited about what we have achieved in the last three days. It's one of the all-time great Test wins as far as I'm concerned. We had to execute things unbelievably well to give ourselves a chance. It was about us being as good as we could be and we have done everything almost perfectly. It was as good a Test match performance as you will see from any team."
It was indeed that good and Ponting finally offered his summation. "If there's a game on the line you won't get the ball out of Shane Warne's hand. He changed the course of this Test match with his spell of bowling today and he could even have changed the course of the series." Nobody was arguing.
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