Herculean Flintoff hurls himself into last ordeal

It is hard to know who is most tormented here at what could still prove the most decisive phase of this Ashes summer, the Australians who are being sneeringly dismissed as world cricket's yesterday men or the man who appears intent on ambushing and harrying them each step of the way.

This of course is to assume that Andrew Flintoff has got left enough of the steps that seem to rack his huge and, the doctors say, over-used body.

Yet if Flintoff's last summer of Test cricket is plainly an ordeal there is no reason, he is saying, why it should not be played to an unremitting tune of glory.

Flintoff may be on the physical, and maybe even psychological edge, but he knows better than anyone that he is one of the main reasons why the Australians have lost so much of their time-honoured swagger – and were last night fighting to stay in a series in which they already trail by one.

So, he is saying with the support of his captain Andrew Strauss, it is simply a question of pushing himself to the limit and hoping that it is the Aussies who crack first.

After his stupendous bowling on the last morning of the Lord's Test, Flintoff was a bit player in the England attack which was led so brilliantly here by Jimmy Anderson and Graham Onions, but when the rain clouds finally cleared yesterday, who was at centre stage once again? Of course it was Flintoff, this time wielding a massive bat with massive intent.

So where lies his torment? It is, surely, that at the age of 31, after years of operations and controversy and drift after his magnificent contribution to the Ashes triumph of 2005, his days as one of the great natural forces in cricket are racing by faster than the idea that Australia can still intimidate their opponents simply by walking on the field.

That wasn't the case last Friday when first Onions, then Anderson produced swing bowling of the highest calibre to drive a vast hole in the Aussie idea that a flying start to their first innings might just create a platform, in a drastically rain-shortened match, for a strike at an equalising victory.

That might have been a somewhat fanciful notion but it was still alive yesterday afternoon when Flintoff came to the wicket with England at 168 at five, still trailing Australia by 95 runs and with much hard work to do if they were going to bat their opponents out of the match.

Hard work? Flintoff made it seem like the most casual fly-swatting.

Smeared, irretrievably, at least as a front-rank strike bowler in this series, was Shane Watson, a great success on the truncated first day as a surprising replacement opener for the troubled prodigy Phillip Hughes. But when he was thrown into the challenge of maintaining momentum created by the efforts of Ben Hilfenhaus, Peter Siddle and a sharply improved Mitchell Johnson, Watson was immediately hammered against the ropes by Flintoff.

In just three overs a despairing Australian captain Ricky Ponting was forced to call off the mismatch, Watson having gone for a potentially match-turning 23 runs in that brief time.

There were times when Flintoff's bones, and especially those in his troubled right knee seemed to be rubbing against each other, but it did nothing to halt his assault as he hit 10 fours and one six in his 74 off 79 balls. He went when spinner Nathan Hauritz managed to hit the rough with a perfectly flighted delivery that touched Flintoff's glove before finishing up in the hands of Michael Clarke in the slips.

This brought a great sigh to the ground which had been feasting, as Lord's had two weeks earlier, on the feats of their hero. At Edgbaston there is of course a special feeling for the big man. Not only was he a key player in the unforgettable two-run victory four years ago, he also appointed himself the spiritual guardian of that epic series when he knelt down to commiserate with the beaten Brett Lee. Here yesterday he was cheered in everything he did and when he had the great bat in his hand there was a perfect balance between adulation and raw achievement.

Yet Flintoff's efforts at the batting crease, and the increasing difficulty he seemed to be experiencing between the wickets, seemed to carry a poignant notice of an early closing of the show. Of course, this happens officially in Test cricket at The Oval in three weeks, but in the meantime he has sworn to continue going to the very limits of his powers.

That seemed a promise based more on hope and ambition than practicality when he was occasionally required to run rather than watch a shot streak to the boundary. Yet when England's innings was over, with a first innings lead of 113 secured, there was Flintoff following his Lancashire team-mate Jimmy Anderson with second use of the new ball.

He couldn't conjure the splendour he achieved with the bat but for England this surely was the ultimate emblem of a winning commitment – Flintoff, his body racked, his wisdom sometimes doubted, streaming in for the pursuit of the kill.

Simon Katich and Shane Watson were able to resist Flintoff in his four-over stint but the man who had done so much to shape the day, and, already, this series which has left England in such a strong position, was a brooding talismanic presence.

Onions claimed the wicket of Katich and then came the most devastating blow for the Australians when Graeme Swann sent a superb fizzing ball into Ricky Ponting's stumps. Flintoff, naturally, was at the heart of the celebrations. Once again he had produced an extraordinary surge of performance, the kind which is now, hauntingly, about to disappear. However, that still is a little time into the future and Flintoff, weary and hurting, remains at the heart of his team.

It is not the least daunting intrusion into the psyche of Australian cricket this morning.

Match details: Weather and TV

*Weather Report

Overcast with sunny intervals, remaining dry throughout the day.

Maximum temperature 20C.

*Television Times

10.00-19.00, Sky Sports 1, HD1

Highlights 19.15-20.00, Five

*Results & remaining fixtures

First Test (Cardiff, 8-12 July)

Match drawn

Second Test (Lords, 16-20 July)

England won by 115 runs

Fourth Test (Headingley)

Friday 7 – Tuesday 11 August

Fifth Test (The Oval)

Thursday 20 – Monday 24 August

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
musicBand's first new record for 20 years has some tough acts to follow
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments