Operation Flintoff strikes

England's irresistible talisman is allowed to bowl after all and plunders the plaudits as Chanderpaul ton lifts West Indies

Andrew Flintoff provided a thrilling intrusion into the First Test yesterday just as doubts were being cast on his immediate future as a bowler. He took three wickets in 13 balls, all his victims bowled, hastened the end of a stubborn West Indies team and hurried England towards their primary objective of taking a 1-0 lead in the npower Test series.

His intervention was as decisive as it was incisive. It left the tourists trailing by 152 runs, a significant deficit which England had increased by the end of the day to 223. Virtually from the moment Brian Lara decided to ask England to bat on winning the toss, the tourists' best outcome was probably a draw and they will have to bat out of their skins for some of today and all of tomorrow to achieve that.

Before Flintoff struck so surprisingly, West Indies were indebted to Shivnarine Chanderpaul's well-ordered century and the support he was given by the late middle order. They will need much more of the same. The pitch will still be good but there are signs of turn and Ashley Giles took four wickets in the first innings.

It was Flintoff who grabbed the limelight in the early part of the afternoon in an unlikely burst of seam bowling. Nobody was sure if he would be fit to bowl in this match but the best guess was that his injured ankle, where a spur has grown, would continue to prevent him from doing so. A statement was issued on the second day of the match suggesting he would bowl but theory was put into practice just before lunch yesterday, by which time West Indies had already received 76 overs.

There was nothing in Flintoff's limp first spell of three overs to suggest what would come later. But he had another chance when West Indies reached 399 for 6. He found himself on a hat-trick when he bowled Omari Banks and Tino Best and although he missed it, with the ankle forgotten and spurred on, so to speak, by a crowd short of drama, he got one through Pedro Collins's defences nine balls later.

After the day's play, Flintoff insisted that it was a small area of inflammation and that the specialist advice said surgery was definitely not essential at this stage. The trouble is that all English cricket fans know that Flintoff has been pushed too far before. He had to pull out of the last tour of Australia because of a chronic hernia when surgery was said to be not essential.

It was a precious lead for England, who had spurned the opportunity to take their first-innings score from formidable to mammoth on the previous day and made the follow-on attainable. They then spurned three chances yesterday - Ridley Jacobs to Flintoff at slip, and Banks twice, to mid-on and mid-off where Graham Thorpe and, much less culpably, Stephen Harmison could not hold on. On this sort of pitch sides have to take catches.

England had few alarms in their second innings. The newish opening partnership of Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Strauss put on 70 unflustered runs, more or less matching each other. Lara set defensive fields in which only one slip featured. He had no other option.

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