Freddie and the dream of a century

Lancashire 565 for 7 dec Middlesex 163-4

Stephen Brenkley
Sunday 11 May 2003 00:00
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It might be pushing it a bit to suggest that Andrew Flintoff is the finest sight in English cricket. Michael Vaughan, Marcus Trescothick and a full Lord's on a sunny day, to name but three, could have something to say about that proposition. Yer makes yer pick and yer takes yer choice. Flintoff will do.

The man who is known as Freddie to everyone but his mum is compelling viewing. His combination of timing, strength and placement is extraordinary. He made a century yesterday by characteristically mixing that trio of ingredients. And he enjoys it so. That is what empties the bars.

Flintoff is in excellent trim for the international season beginning here in 10 days. He has warmed up with spells of brisk, straight bowling and Championship scores of 43, 97 and 111. From the outset yesterday he was a commanding presence.

This was the 10th hundred of his career. It took 107 balls, the second fifty arriving in 37. He does not do slow centuries. It was a year and two days since his most recent score of three figures, which took 75 balls. His solitary Test century to date took 114 balls.

There were some brutal drives in the direction of cow corner, a few meaty, incisive strokes precisely placed through extra cover and the usual thunderous straight drives. All of Middlesex were made to look innocuous.

This concoction yielded him 12 fours and three sixes. Only a wizard with superpowers could have prevented his dismissal, hoicking across the line. He was on 111 facing his 111th ball: a double dose of Nelson. What Flintoff has still to do is to transmit regularly this sort of verve to England. There he is still too often trading on handsome potential.

Lancashire will miss him, although his absence ought to create a place for the tiro all-rounder, Kyle Hogg. Hogg has been called the new Flintoff but as the grandson of Sonny Ramadhin and the son of Willie Hogg he needs no external comparisons. Hogg is already being mentioned by some judges as an England candidate, so Lancashire must know something that they do not as the county has failed to find room for him in the first choice XI.

This looks to be a well-balanced team that is capable of mounting a serious challenge to Surrey. The club are doing the game no favours by seeking to sign Carl Hooper, the erstwhile West Indies captain. Hooper is glorious cricketer but whether a 36-year-old batsman cum off-spinner of considerable under-achievement should be offered employment by an English county is worthy of debate. It will have it on Tuesday when Lancashire appeal against the decision not to allow them to sign the Guyanan.

Lancashire batted on until 35 minutes after lunch having added 199 to their overnight score thanks to the rampant Flintoff. He had his chance at the crease when the overnight fourth-wicket partnership was broken at 264. Joe Dawes burst one through Mark Chilton's studied defences and won a leg-before verdict. Stuart Law, in form but comparatively circumspect was out somewhat lamely for a man two short of a double hundred.

It was the highest total by Lancashire against Middlesex, which takes some crediting when you consider that they have played 182 matches involving some of the game's great players. Perhaps it explains why Lancashire have not won the Championship since 1934.

The acceleration to the declaration at least gave them an additional bulwark. The weather conditions, worsening as the day wore on, seemed as though they might give a chance to their seam bowling that the pitch would not.

Jimmy Anderson took the new ball. It was an important spell because it was his first appearance at Lord's. He will remember the slope and what it can do for a bowler when he reappears on the ground for his Test debut on 22 May.

He found it a tad difficult and bowled on both sides of the wicket but he pushed one across Andrew Strauss which the batsman obligingly edged to Flintoff's bucket hands.

The afternoon was cold by now but Owais Shah unwrapped some delicious strokes with a disdainful ease. You were entitled to wonder if England have done with him but he went when he ought not to have done with eight overs remaining. Tell us the old, old story.

At No 4 in the Middlesex batting order was their wicketkeeper David Nash, a cool enough customer but not a No 4 bat. His naivety in offering no stroke gave Anderson his second wicket. Nash is ahead in the Middlesex order of Ed Joyce, whose class is being spread by word of mouth with each sumptuous stroke he plays. It is a nonsense.

Lancashire were easily in front, though 14 overs were lost to bad light. Flintoff it was who snared Shah. It was a model dress rehearsal.

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