Talented pair begin to fulfil promise

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The Independent Online

The last day at the Basin Reserve underlined two major ways in which English cricket has moved forward this winter. By the end of last summer, Andrew Flintoff was fast becoming an irritating enigma. He obviously had a huge talent, but was he ever going to show the willpower and the discipline to make the most of it?

He was not an original choice for the Test party to tour India and New Zealand and was one of the group of young players sent to the Academy of Cricket in Adelaide to try and sort himself out. For a long time his fitness had been a problem. It was to his great credit that he had done a good deal to sort this out before he joined Rod Marsh's famous establishment.

He owed his latest inclusion in the Test party to his county colleague Craig White, who admitted that since returning from injury, he could no longer reach the speeds of 90mph which had made him such a dangerous bowler in the preceding couple of years. Flintoff was summoned at once and showed in India that he was a Test match fast bowler to be reckoned with.

His batting, on the other hand, was a shambles and the Indian spinners made him look naive and ridiculous, although in January he played good innings in one-day Internationals in Delhi and Bombay. But when he arrived in New Zealand his reputation had become that of a bowler who could bat a bit rather than the other way round.

In the five one-day Internationals he endorsed this impression and it was no surprise when he was out for nought in the first innings of the Christchurch Test Match. Then came the second innings against an admittedly depleted New Zealand attack who were without Chris Cairns. Batting at last as he has always suggested he could, he played a brilliant, hard-hitting innings of 137.

This of course gave him all the confidence and self-belief he had been missing for so long and this innings turned him into a Test all-rounder. He was never again going to be the stuttering, uncertain performer who had been coming out of the pavilion with fear in his eyes.

He strolled out now at the Basin Reserve with England needing quick runs on the last morning and he set about the New Zealand bowling in an unbelievable manner. His power of stroke, his ability to improvise and his judgement were good and this innings flowed with the confidence he had gained in Christchurch. To make 75 in 44 balls in a Test match requires some luck, but it also needs the self-belief which he now has.

It will be surprising if he is not an ever-present member of the England side for a considerable time. The same too can be said of Matthew Hoggard who had bowled steadily in India and then brilliantly in Christchurch when he showed what an outstanding exponent of out-swing bowling he is when the conditions are right.

On this last day in Wellington he suffered from a rare piece of poor captaincy by Nasser Hussain. In his first three overs at the start of the innings, Hoggard had not been able to swing the ball and Hussain promptly relegated him to the outfield and it was not until after tea when it was far too late that he again gave him the ball.

At once he was able to find some reverse swing. It brought him two wickets and he should have had a third when a second lbw decision was turned down in a match which saw some pretty dubious umpiring. Hoggard is exactly the determined and skillful Yorkshire fast bowler that England needs and his name will now surely be one of the first the selectors write down. Darren Gough must watch out.

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