Flintoff shines after Zimbabwe's false dawn

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The Independent Online
The hazards of playing cricket in Birmingham's sub-tropical heat were probably not on the agenda when the young men of Zimbabwe were briefed on the do's and don't's of touring. So their bowlers had to learn first hand yesterday on the second day of the NatWest Under-19 Test that there was no hiding place on the flattest of pitches.

One of the day's little ironies was that they took a wicket with the first ball of the morning and another four overs later, but it was the falsest of dawns; England scored 217 runs before lunch and another 180 in the afternoon session.

At the heart of it all was an innings of 116 by Andrew Flintoff, England's captain, which, even allowing for the shortcomings of some of the bowling and the nearness of one boundary (this pitch is on the edge of Edgbaston's large square) was wonderful to behold.

It seems heresy to say in the current cricket climate that Flintoff looks a more complete batsman than some of the more publicised recent members of this side. He knows the whereabouts of his off-stump, defends with a exemplary straightness and picks off errors of line and length with withering power and certainty.

From the moment he drove Mluleki Nkala smoothly to the long-off boundary to get off the mark, the bowling was dismissed to all parts, mostly off the middle of his bat, and he made a century before lunch from only 75 balls, with 12 fours and five sixes, the latter usually with effortless pull-drives.

He made his second 50 from a mere 29 deliveries and it was looking a shade too simple for him when he went after a very short, very wide ball from the persevering Aubrey Stein, who bowled 22 overs unchanged either side of lunch, and was caught in the gully.

Flintoff will clearly warm the hearts of Lancastrians, (and there are one or two that need warming) for years to come. It was gratifying to see the Zimbabwe youngsters applaud him off. Their bowlers had learned a lot about the merits of length and line.

Their day had started more encouragingly when Stephen Peters was caught at short leg off Stein's first ball. Stein also had Giles Haywood picked up in the gully, but afterwards the tourists struggled to find a combination of bowlers who could give them an element of control against the vigorous stroke play of England's middle order. Even their spinners could not do it.

After their problems in the heat it was no surprise that Zimbabwe looked vulnerable against Ryan Sidebottom and Alex Tudor with the new ball. They were swiftly reduced to 43 for 4 and must pray for a miracle (or perhaps a sub tropical storm) to get them out of this mess.

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