Walloped Matilda: the day Freddie flayed the Aussies

Flintoff shrugs off shoulder injury to dazzle with both bat and ball, showing his team-mates they really can win the Ashes
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The Independent Online

The home side should win, because they need only two more Australian wickets while the tourists require 107 more runs. With these Australians nothing can be taken for granted, but in the previous 40 Tests at this ground no side have made more than 277 in the fourth innings or 211 to win. To acquire 282 they would need to beat both records.

The power of England's team spirit has been their greatest ally in their recent sequence of victories, but it was the power of Flintoff's individual all-round performance which ensured that they are in a position to prevail. He made 73 coruscating runs, including four sixes, to salvage England's sorry second innings, made the initial breakthrough in Australia's reply, took three wickets in all, took the catch to remove the opposition's most dangerous player and was involved in a spat with their young batting star, Michael Clarke in which he had the last word.

It was as if Flintoff was born for this moment. He has it in him now to propel his team towards something more substantial than victory in one match. He knows now that he can take on the Australians if he can complete the job today.

When Clarke was out in the day's final over after England had claimed the extra half-hour permitted if a result is in prospect, victory came a significant step closer. Shane Warne is still at the wicket, unbeaten on 20, but were he to see his side through it would be an achievement as remarkable as any of his bowling performances.

There was another of those from the great leg-spinner yesterday when he befuddled England once again, taking 6 for 46 to take his match haul to 10. He bowled 22 successive overs from the City End, and had Kevin Pietersen not hit him for two sixes his analysis would have been better still. Had it not been for a last-wicket stand of 51 by Flintoff and Simon Jones, England's position might have been parlous, simply because Australia's target would have been that much smaller.

As it is, Michael Vaughan's side are hot favourites to win their first match against Australia with the Ashes still at stake since their famous victory at this ground in the opening match of 1997. This one would be that much the sweeter for coming back from 1-0.

Australia have also lost only two Test matches in the past four years in which the series was still up for grabs. Both of them were to India. In the second of those their great fast bowler Glenn McGrath was not playing because of injury. It can be no coincidence that he is also missing here. His absence cannot detract from England's impressive performance, but when he is not there they become less formidable.