x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The cap fits for Flintoff

Andrew Flintoff took precisely one ball to remind everyone of exactly what we have been missing during his injury clouded recent past.

Andrew Flintoff took precisely one ball to remind everyone of exactly what we have been missing during his injury clouded recent past. The Lancashire all-rounder is often still described as England's talisman, even though they have had more success without him in their ranks of late. When he was handed the ball by the captain, Andrew Strauss, for the first over after lunch yesterday, it was with the sole remit of lifting the team, following a racing start by the tourists.

He bounded in and sent down a bouncer which whistled past the ears of Phillip Hughes, Australia's bright young opening batsman who was unveiling his quirky technique for the first time in an Ashes Test. He followed it up with a mouthful of chatter, which did as much to put Hughes off his stride as the ferocity of following five balls, all delivered in excess of 90mph. It had shades of Edgbaston, in 2005, about it.

Suddenly the capacity crowd were alive, and with it England, whose start with the ball had been poor. Hughes fell to Flintoff soon after for 36. Flintoff, 31, seems to be doing everything he can to revive the spirit of 2005, in particular the jocular approach he brought to that series. After his first over, he shared a joke with the umpire, Billy Doctrove, and almost every shot during his 37 the previous evening was followed by a grin.

He has also revisited a time when his endorsements definitely played second fiddle to his cricket commitments. Flintoff has been like a walking billboard in the recent past. Or, more accurately, a limping one. During England's Test match against the West Indies at Lord's earlier this summer, he appeared on the dressing room balcony with his crutches, wearing a sweatshirt with his sponsor's name writ large.

Now, restored to playing rather than PR duty, his England cap - the one with the three lions and coronet, rather than the one with the sponsor's logo, which is the preference of his teammates - has barely left his head. pradley@thenational.ae