The newspapers called for a hero, English cricket called for hero, hell, the whole of England called for a hero! And in one glorious morning, Freddie Flintoff once more proved himself to be English cricket’s conquering hero.
Graham Gooch once said of Ian Botham, the man whose career has and perhaps forever will cast a shadow over Flintoff’s, Ã¢â‚¬Å“who writes your scripts?Ã¢â‚¬Â It would hardly be surprising if either Alistair Cook or Ravi Bopara, two of Gooch’s Essex proteges’ asked of Flintoff, Ã¢â‚¬Å“so who does write your scripts Freddie?Ã¢â‚¬Â
For this was an occasion of pure drama. Flintoff, who on the eve of this test revealed that it would be one of his last, once more single-handedly proved himself to be English cricket’s conquering hero. He battled expectations, he battled his own body, and crucially he battled Australia, and he won. On all three counts, he defiantly and definitively won.
On the eve of the start of the morning’s play this match was still, thanks to the defiant resistance of Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin, in the balance. Yet by the afternoon it was over courtesy of Flintoff, along with a little help from the subtle webs spun by Graeme Swann, who gained due reward in removing both the irrepressible Michael Clarke and the obdurately defiant Mitchell Johnson.
But such a definition of Flintoff’s rewards simply does a disservice to his methods. English cricket has probably not seen as sustained and aggressive a spell of fast bowling since Flintoff delivered it against England’s great rivals in 2005. Consistent pace and bounce continually troubled the Australian batsmen, none of whom appeared capable of taming him.
Right from the word go, it was Flintoff who opened the floodgates, forcing a nick to slip from the doughty Brad Haddin, just the start required to settle English nerves. Then came ball after ball of fast, hostile and sheer bloody-minded bowling. Mitchell Johnson fought hard, but even he struggled to live with his bounce. Nathan Hauritz was caught in the headlights, and saw his stumps knocked back. Andrew Strauss admitted afterwards that Flintoff refused to be taken out of the attack, for England’s hero of the hour was not to be denied his moment of glory.
Then came the coup-de-grace, with his sixth ball of his penultimate over Flintoff was kept out by Siddle, only for it to be called a no ball. Then with a damned-it-all sense of urgency, he bowled off a shortened run-up and shattered Siddle’s stumps with his extra ball. It was one of those, I was there moments. Freddie Flintoff claims his first five-for at Lords, and only the third of his soon to be concluded test career, against the old enemy Australia.
And as he left the field victorious, the applause said it all. This was no ordinary goodbye, but then Freddie was no ordinary cricketer. While this series will never be his magnus opus, for 2005 will forever be that, then this certainly promises to be his final hurrah.
In his final appearance at Lords Flintoff turned a game, and the record books on its head. 75 years of hurt were ended, and Flintoff was the man to end it. His performance here, even before the last day was memorable enough.
Though in the first innings it was Anderson who got the wickets, it was Flintoff who exerted the pressure. And second time round when England needed a breakthrough, it was Flintoff who twice obliged.
The next question is where is the next stop on the Flintoff farewell tour? Fitness permitting, and it wouldn’t be a Flintoff story without a will-he-won’t-he tale involving injury, to Edgbaston-perhaps the site of his finest hour as an England player.
His performance there four years ago, both took the breath away and gave England the momentum from which they, like the proverbial rock, would continue to roll all the way to victory. Knowing Flintoff’s script-writers, you wouldn’t bet against them providing him one last glorious tale, at the site of his finest hour, to add to his final, fairytale story.
Andrew Flintoff will forever be a cricketer who is remembered not merely by his statistics, but by the glorious moments which he has provided for both fans and players alike. And as Lords, the home of cricket, bid a fond and final farewell to him as a test match cricketer, it should be fitting that he would provide yet another immortal moment for English cricket to remember him by.
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BIOGRAPHY: Georginio Wijnaldum