Lara leads fightback after Flintoff's magical century

Second Test, second day England 566-9 dec v West Indies 184-2
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The Independent Online

Test cricket does not get much better than this. Even in an era when spectators are accustomed to watching the scoreboard rattle along at four runs an over this was something special.

Test cricket does not get much better than this. Even in an era when spectators are accustomed to watching the scoreboard rattle along at four runs an over this was something special.

Four hundred and thirty seven runs, career-best performances from the two England players whom promoters have used most to entice fans to part with their cash and a brilliant unbeaten innings of 74 from Brian Lara, the best batsman in the world. The bowlers may not have enjoyed it, but Test venues will remain full if every day contains this much excitement.

For England the real entertainment came from Flintoff, who scored a career-best 167. The all-rounder's brutal innings captivated the 20,500 who filled Edgbaston, but he would have taken equal joy from watching his close mate, Stephen Harmison, swipe 31 runs from just 18 balls.

This pair, along with Geraint Jones, completed a wonderful recovery by England, and another disastrous day in the field for the West Indies. They allowed Michael Vaughan to declare when his side had reached the impregnable total of 566 for 9.

But Harmison's fun ended once the ball was placed in his hand. Matthew Hoggard gave England the perfect start when he dismissed both West Indian openers inside three overs, but these proved to be the home side's final successes. Ramnaresh Sarwan and Lara provided those attending with as many thrills as their English counterparts, as both players struck the ball beautifully during a swashbuckling partnership of 172. By the close Sarwan had marched to 87 and the West Indies to 184 for 2.

Yet having batted so well and after stealing the initiative the visitors still find themselves 382 runs behind England and 183 short of avoiding the follow-on. For any side this is a depressing position to be in and England know that it will only take one mistake or one good ball this morning to regain control.

During his four-and-a-half hours in the sun Flintoff plundered 17 fours and seven huge sixes, with the last of these, a slog-sweep over square-leg, taking his tally of maximums in Test cricket to 41. But even he could not have predicted the mayhem which gave the second day of the second Test such a thrilling start. Spectators arrived expecting a close, fierce contest. After all, the match was evenly poised and the not out pair, Flintoff and Jones, had to play themselves in.

But it took only 10 balls for the vista of the two teams to move miles apart. Flintoff, on 42, could not have got off to a better start. He leant on his first ball of the day and watched it race through the covers for four. Eight runs were taken off the four balls of Pedro Collins' unfinished over from Thursday. Corey Collymore also started poorly as Jones struck him for two boundaries in his opening over.

In an age when teams study their opponents closely the fast bowler should have been aware of Jones' strengths but twice he erred and twice he disappeared through cover point. The initiative had been grabbed and England were off while the West Indies, armed with the second new ball, were once again on the defensive.

Collymore tidied up his act and provided Lara with a modicum of control during a 12-over spell from the City End, but the bowling from the Pavilion End was dire. In the third over Flintoff struck Collins for another four to bring up his sixth score of fifty or more in six Tests.

Jermaine Lawson had a good first day but yesterday proved to be one he would rather forget. In six overs the Jamaican fast bowler was slapped for 64 runs. Jones cut him mercilessly for two fours in his opening over and Flintoff then proceeded to pull him over square-leg for six.

And Flintoff saved his biggest and best blow for Lawson when he nonchalantly flicked him - à la Viv Richards - over mid-on and into the top tier of a double-decker stand. This turned out to be the area where the Flintoff family were sat but his father, Colin, dropped the steepling catch.

This shot took the 26-year-old to 89 and he wasted little time collecting the 11 runs he seats allocated to the Flintoff family but his father, Colin, dropped the steepling catch. This shot took him to 89 and he wasted little time in collecting the 11 runs needed for his fourth Test century.

Dwayne Bravo was Lara's best bowler, but he dragged two looseners down in his first over that Flintoff clubbed over mid-wicket for four, the second shot taking him to three figures. The packed stands rose to their feet, aware that they were witnessing something special.

The persevering Collymore eventually gained reward when he found the outside edge of Jones' bat but he had added 170 with Flintoff and the pair had taken England out of sight.

Ashley Giles made a nuisance of himself and Flintoff, showing a maturity seldom seen from him two years ago, was content to collect the easy runs made available by Lara's decision to place five or six of his players on the boundary.

But the loss of Giles, and the arrival of Hoggard - the first member of England's tail - kicked Flintoff into action and he again started peppering the crowd. Banks, the Anguillan off-spinner, was the bowler to suffer. Flintoff struck the first two deliveries in an over for six and everyone began to wonder whether he would attempt to equal Sir Garfield Sobers' record of six sixes in an over.

But Flintoff refused to be drawn in and blocked the next delivery, much to the disappointment of the crowd.

He did, however, hit another six in the over but it proved to be his final blow - Bravo trapped him plumb in front of the wicket with a well-disguised slower delivery.