Flintoff blasts the Windies

Andrew Flintoff has, on the back of England's unexpected triumphs in the last eight months, developed into the biggest star in the skies, hailed in the streets.

TED CORBETT

Andrew Flintoff... a majestic 167. — Pic. STU FORSTER/GETTY IMAGES-

W. G. GRACE strode the cricket grounds of England like a Colossus, Jack Hobbs' run-gathering feats made him an immortal into his middle age. Ian Botham was the pop idol from the late 1970s until the 1990s and now another wonderfully-talented, charismatic and successful cricketer has shot to the top of Mount Olympus.

Andrew Flintoff has, on the back of England's unexpected triumphs in the last eight months, developed into the biggest star in the skies, hailed in the streets, cheered as he heads for either the batting or the bowling crease and a fielder who can snatch wonderful catches out of the air.

Flintoff — "Freddie Flintstone" from the northern isles of Scotland where cricket is usually regarded as a sissies' game to the remotest parts of Cornwall where the rest of us Englishmen as know, insultingly, as grockels or aliens — adds a dimension to a game so steeped in tradition that "new" is probably the most frowned upon word in the cricket dictionary.

Amateur amassing a fortune

Marcus Trescothick... a century in each innings. — Pic. STU FORSTER/GETTY IMAGES-

W. G. was an amateur who amassed a fortune, Hobbs was the typical diffident and cap-touching professional who declined the captaincy of his country because he believed it should be done by a gentleman and Botham was a hero constantly in the glare of publicity he did not want.

Not so Flintoff. It is clear he plays cricket because he loves it. He is uninhibited, wise-cracking and still young enough to admit to his mistakes. He would be England Test captain tomorrow if someone asked. As for the glare of publicity; why, isn't that the by-product of his friendship with those nice guys in the Press Box, mates like Mylo, Snoopy and MGM?

As for the public, they are the people who cheer his hundreds, his wickets and his catches. They love him and he loves them. Flintoff is unique among modern cricketers. He celebrates his achievements first with the spectators who are on their feet, rather than acknowledging those he knows best on the dressing room balcony.

A gale

Ashley Giles_ spinning a web around the Caribbeans. -- Pic. AFP-

You will gather that Freddie is not just a breath of fresh air but a gale blowing through a English game that desperately needed a new personality after years in the doldrums.

He has given our cricket its joy again. He walks down the steps from the pavilion and spectators laugh; not at him but at the pleasure that is to come. When he hits out the ball soars towards the clouds and the cheers follow its progress.

When it comes down there is an explosion of pleasure; Flintoff has returned that village green feeling of a game played because it brings happiness to the players and the spectators, returned it to the watchers so that they can derive as much enjoyment as the batsman and the bowler. He has made the connection with the crowd because he loves to be the sportsman in the middle and enjoys the warm feeling that comes towards him in waves.

Feats of strength

It is not just that he celebrates each wicket and each six with an arm-flinging, head-shaking burst of laughter but the ease of his feats, on the back of massive strength from a body that used to be swollen with booze and beef burgers but which is now trimmed so finely that we see it and think of Richard the Lion-heart, the Black Prince and all those other medieval heroes who won battles and fair maidens through feats of arms and a mass of blond hair.

Not that home-loving, family-centred, small town boy Flintoff cares as much about girls as, for instance, some footballers or pop stars. His partner is about to have their first baby "and I am as excited about that date soon after the end of the season as about anything that might happen on the field," he says.

Ramnaresh Sarwan put up a stout fight in the first innings. -- Pic. AFP-

You could see the family man when, by an extraordinary coincidence, his father failed to catch one of the sixes in the top section of the stand next to the Edgbaston pavilion. "I lost it at the last minute," said Colin Flintoff.

"Dad comes home every week-end from his club cricket and tells us what marvellous fielders he and his mates are and now we know the truth. He's rubbish and I can't wait to get home to tell him so," said Flintoff, still grinning; still the proud son.

Enormous impact

We saw during the second Test against West Indies at Edgbaston just what an enormous impact he has on any game. England may be miles better than West Indies but they still need the life force inside Flintoff to create the big impact.

(It was even his joke that unhinged Tino Best. "Hey, Tino, watch out for those windows," he shouted as the pocket dynamo prepared to take strike. Two balls later Tino sailed down the wicket in an attempt to drive a hole through the high windows in the Lord's pavilion and was stumped. Flintoff doubled up with laughter).

Real sensation

As England won the first Test it was his dramatic intervention bowling to the West Indies tail that caused such a sensation. At Edgbaston, as England won by 257 runs it was his batting — careful defence allied to seven crashing sixes, patience mixed with 17 fours across 273 minutes and after 191 balls — that sent West Indies to their 30th defeat in 40 away Tests and gave England their eighth win in nine Tests.

He made 167 in the first innings of 566 for nine declared after batting for more than 60 overs. It was his sixth score over fifty in six successive matches and on the second afternoon, as he and the wicket-keeper Geraint Jones added 170 for the sixth wicket, it was already clear that West Indies could not cope.

Marcus Trescothick had already pounded out a century in three hours and Graham Thorpe tapped out another fifty — both were to repeat those scores in the second innings — so that the scene was set for a Flintoff blast-off. But instead of going flat out down the six route he waited and then gorged on the remains of the West Indies attack when the young bowlers grew tired.

When it was time to bowl Flintoff found the short ball to unnerve Brian Lara, just five short of a century and 20 short of 10,000 runs and then induced the nervy reflex shot at a ball going wide. Thus the 139 from Ramnaresh Sarwan and the 45 from Shivnarine Chanderpaul had no value, particularly as only Dwayne Bravo of the rest reached double figures.

Imaginative captain

Brian Lara -- Pic. REUTERS-

England's imaginative new captain Michael Vaughan batted again despite a lead of 230 and now it was the turn of his side to under-perform. Trescothick's 107 apart only Thorpe with 54 and Flintoff with 20 got to double figures. They will not get away with such a careless display against Australia but this West Indies side has no pedigree unless it is provided by Lara and Sarwan. In their second innings they were blown away without any major contribution from Flintoff.

Probing spin

Again it was Ashley Giles who caused the collapse. Edgbaston is his home pitch and it might have been specially prepared for him as he extracted spin from the bowlers' footholes and made even Lara scratch around. He had nine wickets in the first Test and nine more in the second. Ten in a match eludes him but not for long I guess.

The key to victory came when Flintoff caught Lara at short slip off Giles. Lara, an honest cricketer, did not like the decision which was similar to the catch behind that ended his first innings at Lord's.

England should beware. Lara has been out to two dubious decisions and one great ball by Giles which turned a foot. If I know my man, Lara will be thirsting for revenge and when he is in that mood bowlers should duck.

Before, during and after the Test there were calls for Lara's resignation mostly from fast-bowler-turned-writer Colin Croft at home in the Caribbean and Viv Richards who has given up the chairmanship of the selectors to comment on the series for BBC radio.

This reaction is to be expected but down all the years I have learnt that it never succeeds. Only the worst possible level of leadership prompts a sacking before the series is finished and in this wretched West Indies team who is there to take the reins?

The obvious answer

Sarwan is the obvious answer but it must be better to wait until he has another year on his shoulders and until Lara has taken all the flak for this and sundry other defeats in the last few years.

The Caribbean is in uproar, of course, but it is too late to effect a cure now. Years of pain and misery lie ahead like those suffered by England since they lost their grip on the Ashes in 1989.

Unless they can find someone with Flintoff's energy, personality and skills. But, as England have found out, it takes at least five years to develop an overnight success like Flintoff and West Indies' greatest need is now.

The scores

Second Test, Edgbaston, July 29 to Aug. 1, England won by 256 runs.

England — 1st innings: M. E. Trescothick c Lara b Bravo 105; A. J. Strauss c Jacobs b Lawson 24; R. W. T. Key c Lara b Collins 29; M. P. Vaughan c & b Bravo 12; G. P. Thorpe c Jacobs b Collymore 61; A. Flintoff lbw b Bravo 167; G. O. Jones c Jacobs b Collymore 74; A. F. Giles c Chanderpaul b Bravo 24; M. J. Hoggard (not out) 15; J. M. Anderson b Banks 2; S. J. Harmison (not out) 31; Extras (lb-6, w-1, nb-15) 22; Total ( for nine wickets decl.) 566.

Fall of wickets: 1-77, 2-125, 3-150, 4-210, 5-262, 6-432, 7-478, 8-522, 9-525.

West Indies bowling: Collins 18-1-90-1; Collymore 30-6-126-2 ; Lawson 23-4-111-1; Bravo 24-6-76-4; Banks 27-3-108-1; Sarwan 12-0-49-0.

West Indies — 1st innings: C. H. Gayle b Hoggard 7; D. S. Smith c Giles b Hoggard 4; R. R. Sarwan b Flintoff 139; B. C. Lara c Thorpe b Flintoff 95; S. Chanderpaul c Key b Giles 45; D. J. J. Bravo b Giles 13; R. D. Jacobs c Trescothick b Hoggard 0; O. A. C. Banks c Jones b Harmison 4; P. T. Collins c Flintoff b Giles 6; C. D. Collymore lbw b Giles 2; J. J. C. Lawson (not out) 0; Extras (b-9, lb-5, w-1, nb-6) 21; Total 336.

Fall of wickets: 1-5, 2-12, 3-221, 4-297, 5-323, 6-324, 7-324, 8-334, 9-336.

England bowling: Hoggard 18-0-89-3; Harmison 14-1-64-1; Anderson 11-3-37 0; Giles 30.3-7-65-4; Flintoff 15-1-52- 2; Vaughan 1-0-8-0; Trescothick 2-0-7-0.

England — 2nd innings: M. E. Trescothick (run out) 107; A. J. Strauss c Jacobs b Lawson 5; R. W. T. Key c Gayle b Lawson 4; M. P. Vaughan c Gayle b Lawson 3; G. P. Thorpe st. Jacobs b Gayle 54; A. Flintoff c Bravo b Gayle 20; G. O. Jones b Lawson 4; A. F. Giles b Gayle 15; M. J. Hoggard c Smith b Gayle 6; S. J. Harmison lbw b Gayle 1; J. M. Anderson (not out) 8; Extras (b-8, lb-2, w-5, nb-6) 21; Total 248.

Fall of wickets: 1-24, 2-37, 3-52, 4-184, 5-195, 6-214, 7-226, 8-234, 9-239.

West Indies bowling: Collins 9-1-29-0; Collymore 9-2-33-0; Lawson 21-2-94-4; Bravo 6-1-28-0; Banks 5-1-20-0; Gayle 15.1-4-34-5.

West Indies — 2nd innings: C. H. Gayle c Strauss b Giles 82; D. S. Smith c Trescothick b Hoggard 11; R. R. Sarwan c Strauss b Giles 14; B. C. Lara c Flintoff b Giles 13; S. Chanderpaul lbw b Giles 43; D. J. J. Bravo b Giles 0; R. D. Jacobs c Anderson b Hoggard 0; O. A. C. Banks (not out) 25; P. T. Collins lbw b Hoggard 0; C. D. Collymore b Anderson 10; J. J. C. Lawson b Anderson 2; Extras (b-17, lb-4, nb-1) 22; Total 222.

Fall of wickets: 1-15, 2-54, 3-101, 4-172, 5-172, 6-177, 7-177; 8-182; 9-210.

England bowling: Hoggard 16-5-64-3; Harmison 5-1-29-0; Flintoff 5-1-19-0; Giles 21-9-57-5; Anderson 5.3-1-23-2; Vaughan 3-0-9-0.