In Mumbai in 2002 Andrew Flintoff took his shirt off and whirled it frenziedly round his head after helping England to level the one-day series with India.
Flintoff, man of the hour
LONDON // In Mumbai in 2002 Andrew Flintoff took his shirt off and whirled it frenziedly round his head after helping England to level the one-day series with India. The bourgeois of the MCC will have sneered and it would have gone against all the etiquette of Lord's, but England's totemic all-rounder could have been forgiven for repeating the wild celebration and performing a lap of honour around this iconic cricket ground yesterday after inspiring England to a historic Ashes victory. Cometh the hour, cometh the man.
Fans flocked to Lord's yesterday fearing a repeat of the nerve-jangling final day's play at Edgbaston in 2005, but Flintoff - who else - took just four balls to assuage the fears of all England supporters by removing Brad Haddin, the Australian wicketkeeper who had provided such stoicism the previous evening in tandem with Michael Clarke. The relief was palpable. Dragging his deteriorating body in from the Pavilion End in a spell reminiscent of his 18-over stint at the Oval in 2005, Flintoff produced yet another sustained passage of hostile and deadly accurate fast bowling to emphatically bowl Nathan Hauritz and Peter Siddle and record his first ever five-wicket haul at the home of cricket.
It is difficult to believe that a man who Shane Warne believes is "the best bowler in the world on his day" has only three five-fors in 77 Test matches. He does, however, have the kudos of being only the sixth man to feature on the famous honours board at Lord's for both batting and bowling. Graeme Swann claimed the other two wickets to fall yesterday, the first with a wonderfully flighted and dipping delivery to remove Clarke for a brilliant 136. But this was Flintoff's day. Even by his standards this was a Herculean performance.
It is unclear who writes his scripts, but JK Rowling would have struggled to fashion this storybook ending to Flintoff's Test career at Lord's. The strapping Lancastrian was already guaranteed a rousing reception next week at Edgbaston, the scene of his finest hour in 2005, but the hero's reception he is likely to receive threatens to raise the roof off the raucous Eric Hollies Stand. Flintoff's career statistics make modest reading for someone with his extraordinary ability, but there is something about playing against Australia in England that forces him to strain every sinew in pursuit of that famous urn.
Yet as he was at Edgbaston in that emotional embrace with Brett Lee in 2005, Flintoff was magnanimous in victory. He celebrated the final wicket, taken by Swann who bowled Mitchell Johnson, by thanking the umpires, shaking the hands of both Australian batsmen and collecting a stump as a souvenir. Further evidence of his growing maturity came in his acceptance speech of the man-of-the-match award when he praised the effort of the team who, barring the evening session in day four, outplayed the tourists from start to finish.
Defeat was rough on Clarke, who raised hopes of completing a record run chase with a magnificent century. His effort, in Australia's total of 406, would have been good enough to win most Test matches batting last. Australia were eventually beaten by 115 runs, but it would have been interesting to see what would have happened had he managed to partner Mitchell Johnson for a longer period. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org