Gaping hole left by Flintoff's absence provides dose of reality

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The Independent Online

When a buoyant dressing-room, brimming with confidence, hears that it has temporarily lost the services of its leading all-rounder, it serves only to increase the overall determination. England strode out at the start as if intent on making sure that Freddie Flintoff would not be missed. They succeeded with an extremely efficient display with the ball, but without his ballast in the middle order, the England batting was sadly and humiliatingly shipwrecked.

When a buoyant dressing-room, brimming with confidence, hears that it has temporarily lost the services of its leading all-rounder, it serves only to increase the overall determination. England strode out at the start as if intent on making sure that Freddie Flintoff would not be missed. They succeeded with an extremely efficient display with the ball, but without his ballast in the middle order, the England batting was sadly and humiliatingly shipwrecked.

The bowling was never less than tightly disciplined. If Stephen Harmison led the way with 4 for 22, his best one-day international figures, Darren Gough, Alex Wharf and Ashley Giles were not far behind. They were backed up by what has become typically tidy fielding.

Watching the progress of young players is an absorbing process. Even a year ago it would have been hard to forecast that both Flintoff and Harmison would have turned into the match-winners they have. At the start of this season it was still fashionable to poke fun at Giles, and yet he has had the last laugh.

It has been fascinating too, to see how Michael Vaughan has developed as a captain. He has always been his own man, not in the mildly abrasive, authoritarian way of Nasser Hussain, but in his own genially inclusive style. He knows his own mind and if necessary is not afraid to call his troops to order, although not in a way that might endanger relationships.

Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of these three matches against India has been the chance to see the value of Gough to the one-day side. Many would have disposed of him with such a formidable phalanx of young fast bowlers on hand, but his vast experience has been invaluable and his bowling in the closing overs, which has always marked him out, has been almost as good as ever.

After all of this it seemed that all England had to do was buckle on their pads to win. That they did not must have had a good deal to do with complacency and over-confidence, as Duncan Fletcher will surely be quick to remind them.

The early batsmen were surprised by the pace and life of the two left-arm over merchants, Ashish Nehra and Irfan Pathan. Then the spinning wiles of Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble played on already frayed nerves and England were brought back to earth. How they missed Freddie with the bat - although this defeat should have taught them a healthy lesson.

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