Andrew Flintoff's capacity for doing extraordinary things was of no help at all to the England selectors here yesterday, given that the extraordinary thing he did was collecting a second golden duck in a row.
When he was caught behind off the only ball he faced in Lancashire's last Championship match against Somerset, the consensus was that Flintoff had been unfortunate. This time, with only two opportunities left to post a worthwhile score ahead of this weekend's selection meeting for next week's first Test against New Zealand ... well, you know how the rest of the Oscar Wilde line goes.
Then again, given that 20 wickets fell here yesterday, it might be unfair to single out Flintoff as careless. On a bouncy, quick pitch, it was the bowlers who enjoyed themselves, Flintoff among them. He and James Anderson, whom the selectors will be watching just as closely, finished with four wickets each.
With a little help, they polished off Durham for 114 as Lancashire claimed an unlikely first-innings lead.
Yet the two internationals deserve to be playing second fiddle in this story to Mark Davies, a 27-year-old seam bowler from Stockton who might have shared an England dressing room with them but for a career bedevilled by injuries.
Tearing the heart out of the Lancashire innings in two superb eight-over spells, in which he found bounce and movement from a consistently testing length, Davies finished with a career-best 7 for 33.
At the peak of his effectiveness, he took five wickets in the space of 17 deliveries, three of them in four balls during the same over, Flintoff coming and going as the meat in the sandwich between Mal Loye and Luke Sutton. With hindsight, England's run-starved all-rounder would surely have watched the ball through to the wicketkeeper with barely a flinch. Instead, he was drawn towards it, with immediate regret as Paul Collingwood took the catch low down at first slip.
With the ball Flintoff continues to look in fine fettle, even though he did give spectators a frisson of anxiety by calling the physio to attend to his left ankle. Happily, the problem was nothing worse than a blister. Anderson did the significant damage at the top of the order, doing what he does best (but not often enough) by bowling full and swinging the ball.Reuse content