James Lawton: Flintoff rekindles fires of Botham with Oval display

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The Independent Online

There was much grace along with England's face-saving Test match victory at The Oval yesterday. The exchanges between the teams at the end of a strangely erratic but always compelling series carried an authentic note of respect and regard.

For England cricket supporters it was a marvellous reassertion of the fact that despite myopic and chaotic administration, and inconsistent selection, the nation can still send into the field a team of both talent and application. This at various points of the summer was something that could be not be said with any great confidence.

South Africa's 22-year-old captain, Graeme Smith, a giant of the early summer, left the field hurting but with his ambition and dignity still plainly intact. His counterpart, Michael Vaughan, who as recently as last Thursday faced shattering failure in his first run as England captain, has time to gather himself for the winter action and perhaps spend a little time with his own superb game. Mike Atherton gave him an impressive endorsement. "Michael Vaughan is a good man - and he'll be fine," Athers declared.

Perhaps best of all was the strongest evidence so far that Andy Flintoff may finally have come of age. He is a physical giant of great talent, and clearly he has a good heart. Ian Botham has a place in English cricket that will never be extinguished, but Flintoff has proved that he can make a bonfire of his own.

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