x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Flintoff lets fly at Edgbaston

The knee may still cause unimaginable pain and the body may be failing, but Andrew Flintoff will not be denied.

BIRMINGHAM // The knee may still cause unimaginable pain and the body may be failing, but Andrew Flintoff will not be denied. Met with a crescendo of noise and an ovation of the highest order, England's talisman strode to the centre of the crease for perhaps the last time in a Test match at Edgbaston. From there he illustrated just why he is held so dear after producing a mesmerising exhibition of attacking strokeplay.

With England 168 for five following the dismissal of Ian Bell for 53, Flintoff went on the front foot in a bid to heap yet more misery on the tourists. Against an average looking bowling unit Flintoff looked impregnable, bludgeoning 74 off 79 deliveries before being caught off his gloves at slip. The soft manner of his dismissal, which prevented the 31-year-old Lancastrian from claiming his first Test hundred since the Ashes series of 2005, will have frustrated Flintoff greatly.

Although he remains a doubt for the fourth Test at Headingley on Friday, this performance will have come as great encouragement to coach Andy Flower. Flintoff's running in between the wickets was often laboured with the all-rounder limping uncomfortably throughout his stay in the middle. England captain Andrew Strauss must now decide how often to bowl Flintoff on the final day given that the next contest begins in five days time.

With Kevin Pietersen ruled out of the series with an Achilles problem, Strauss can ill-afford to lose another world-class player going into the final two Tests of the series. The injury, however, has not detracted from Flintoff's ability to attack the bowler as he took Australia to task. Aided by Matt Prior, the duo had gorged themselves on the bowling of Shane Watson, while Mitchell Johnson's frustrations increased as Flintoff continued to hit boundary after boundary.

The pair added 89 before Prior was dismissed off the bowling of Peter Siddle for 41 to bring an end to a partnership which had changed the entire dynamic of the contest. Australia looked rattled, Johnson in particular appeared to have allowed his frustration to spill over after enjoying some verbal jousting with Flintoff and then later Stuart Broad. It was Broad's quickfire 55 which helped England finish with a lead of 113 as Australia were forced to endure a nervy final session against the new ball.

The morning had begun badly for England with Strauss adding just five to his overnight score of 62 before being caught behind by Graham Manou off the bowling of Hilfenhaus. Collingwood followed just before lunch, wafting ludicrously at a Hilfenhaus delivery which sailed into the hands of Ponting. Prior and Flintoff then put England in control before Broad hit nine fours on his way to his fourth Test match half-century to leave England in pole position.

Openers Simon Katich and Watson came out to face the tireless Flintoff and James Anderson with a nervy 32 overs of the day's play remaining. Australia will now hope to bat out the final day without too many scares and, with rain again forecast, England will find their chances of extending their series lead at a premium. @Email:sports@thenational.ae