Andrew Flintoff's comeback began with a whimper but ended with a bang as he helped to reduce Kent's first-innings reply to a wobbly mess yesterday.
Six weeks after an operation on his left ankle to remove some stray bone fragments, the Lancashire all-rounder signalled his readiness to return to Test duty against Pakistan at Old Trafford next week with a stirring performance in his first Championship outing of the summer.
Although Flintoff lasted just eight balls before Kent's South African pace bowler, Tyron Henderson, had him caught behind when he tried cutting a ball that was too close to him, his batting was not the worry.
The England bowling coach, Kevin Shine, who was at the St Lawrence Ground to monitor the progress of another of Lancashire's England bowlers, Jimmy Anderson - he should be fit in early August - would have been more concerned with how that left ankle stood up to some full-on fast bowling.
The answer was: very well. With his wicket-taking first ball Flintoff ran in and planted his left foot into the turf with a seismic crash on delivery. That the recipient of that first ball happened to be one of his closest friends, Robert Key, the Kent captain, was immaterial. As was the fact that some 18 hours earlier Flintoff had been a member of an élite gathering at a dinner to celebrate Key's marriage to Fleur on Monday.
All he cared about, all the rest of the country - Kent excepted - cared about, was seeing whether he was fit enough to return to lead England out in the second Test against Pakistan which startsThursday next week.
Key did not see any menace in that first ball and opted to shoulder arms. But the ball nipped back to remove the off-stump.
With the penultimate delivery of his third over Flintoff, bowling close to his fastest, struck again, this time rapping Martin van Jaarsveld on the pads with a full-length ball. His first spell was a satisfactory six overs, picking up two wickets for 11 runs.
But it was not just his bowling that did for Kent. When the opener David Fulton attempted to cut a delivery from Glen Chapple the ball flew off the edge and looked to be heading over the slip cordon. But the 6ft 4in Flintoff stuck that golden right arm into the air and the ball stuck in his hand.
His contribution helped to compensate for Lancashire's disappointing batting display. Henderson marked his Championship home debut for Kent with 4 for 29, and Martin Saggers picked up three wickets.
Had it not been for the rookie wicketkeeper Gareth Cross and Stuart Law, who put on 82 for the seventh wicket, Lancashire would have been in a sorry mess.Reuse content