Flintoff Inspires England

Edgbaston has often been considered a ‘lucky’ ground for England against Australia, although in truth they only shade matters in Ashes contests between the sides.

At the start of the third day, this game, the second match in the 2005 Ashes series, was already in a very advanced stage. England were 25-1 in their second innings, a lead of 124 on a pitch that was beginning to reflect its state of under-preparedness following on from the previous week’s freak storm.

England had thus far totally dominated the game from the moment Australian captain Ricky Ponting won the toss and decided to field, yet just one name was on everyone’s lips – that of Shane Warne who on Friday evening had produced a collectors-item delivery to dismiss Andrew Strauss. Could he yet bowl Australia to victory and a 2-0 lead in the series?

Saturday dawned overcast as England’s not out batsmen Matthew Hoggard and Marcus Trescothick strode onto the field to face the opening salvo from Brett Lee who started with a testing maiden to Trescothick. It was no surprise that Warne continued from the City End, but the right-handed Hoggard had little difficulty in negotiating Warne without having to contend with the bowlers’ footmarks.

Trescothick opened his account for the day with a nudged single to cover off the bowling of Lee as England sought to establish themselves in the middle. At the other end, he had a let-off when a sweep struck himself on the helmet only to fall safe behind slip, but the stay of execution lasted less than an over. Chasing a wide delivery from Lee, Trescothick (21) edged through to keeper Adam Gilchrist leaving England on 27-2.

Three balls later, it was 29-3 and the game was back in the melting-pot. England captain Michael Vaughan (1) failed to get forward to Brett Lee and he too departed in familiar fashion, clean bowled failing to negotiate a perfectly straight ball. The familiar procession was well under way when Hoggard (1) steered Lee, the resurgent surprise package, straight to Matthew Hayden in the gulley as England slumped to 31-4.

Kevin Pietersen survived a huge appeal first off when Lee fired short at the ribs and the ball appeared to hit something on the way through to keeper Gilchrist. Pietersen then smashed Warne for an enormous six over midwicket to relieve a little of the crushing pressure that had been building in the first three quarter of an hour. Three balls later, he did it again. This man is a very special talent indeed.

Ian Bell played Lee neatly through the covers for what was a comfortable two, but he nearly perished taking on Michael Clarke’s excellent arm in striving for a dicey third. Under the current circumstances, a run-out would have been criminal. A single by Pietersen followed by Bell’s first boundary off the highly impressive Lee took England beyond 50 – the first milestone of many they would require in order to set a challenging target.

Bell was quick to pounce on a full toss by Warne, stroking the ball through midwicket for another boundary as at this stage the world’s greatest leg-spinner was proving largely ineffectual over the wicket against the two right-handers. Finally, he went around and bowled the last delivery before drinks into the rough. A huge, rip-snorting leg-break had Bell groping – a sure sign of things to come.

The excellent Lee finally gave way to Jason Gillespie who started with a steady over to Pietersen, whereas Warne persevered with his around-the-wicket approach to Bell who in similar vein continued to play the spinner from the crease as late as possible. Pietersen’s approach was totally the opposite, reaching far in front of himself to flick the ball through midwicket, and it proved his undoing.

Pietersen (20) was drawn into the sweep and the ball ricocheted off some part of the batsman’s body not necessarily remotely close to bat or glove. What is certain is that Gilchrist showed remarkable reactions in stooping to pick up the ball inches off the ground and in the process reduced England to 72-5.

In Warne’s next over, England were definitely looking down the barrel. Bell (21) was drawn forward to a ball pitching close to leg stump. The delivery turned sharply, the edge found and Gilchrist did the rest. It was now down to Andrew Flintoff and Geraint Jones to at least try to take England through to lunch.

Gillespie presented Flintoff with a leg-side half-volley and the big Lancastrian despatched the ball through midwicket for four. Five minutes later, Flintoff appeared to injure his shoulder in trying to cut a short ball from Warne. After lengthy treatment, he declared himself fit to continue, but the grimace on his face told a story all of its own.

Geraint Jones was fortunate to survive when Jason Gillespie dropped an absolute dolly of a return catch. Meanwhile, Flintoff was finding immense difficulty in going through with any semblance of an attacking shot, tamely patting back half-volleys on more than one occasion. In the final over of the morning, a juicy full toss from Warne was merely jabbed to the midwicket boundary by Flintoff, whereas under normal circumstances the ball would have found a new home adjacent to Row Q.

At lunch, England had progressed to 95-6, a lead of 194. Australia, having been bested in every session of the game bar this one, had wrested the initiative in just two hours of intense cricket aided, in part, by some early injudicious shot selection. It remained to be seen just how well England could bounce back. Another 60 or 70 runs would make matters interesting – if they weren’t interesting enough already.

Brett Lee commenced the activities after lunch and Geraint Jones opened the face of the bat to run his third ball to the fence at third man. A nudged single into the off side took England to three figures, and from the following ball, Flintoff did likewise to take the lead to 200. The final ball of an eventful first over exploded off the surface more than any ball in the match so far and the unlucky Jones (9) had nowhere to go apart from the pavilion, gloving a simple catch to Ponting.

Flintoff flashed hard at a wide one from Lee and profited to the sum of four through third man, a boundary that prompted Ponting, recognising the value of keeping any target to a minimum, to fill that particular gap for the first time in the innings. Flintoff, clearly struggling with his injured left shoulder, then cut Lee in Staffordshire fashion to the boundary at fine leg. Gone was the bludgeon and the rapier, replaced by a tentative prod – not for long though.

As Lee started to get the reverse swing going, Giles drove elegantly past point for a couple which turned into three courtesy of some poor ground-fielding. Flintoff, meanwhile, contented himself with nudging and nurdling to some effect as he moved into the thirties. Brilliant fielding by Clarke at third man saved a couple of runs as the English lead grew to a useful 225 – more than anyone had ever scored on this ground in order to secure a test match victory, although teams had managed more in a losing cause.

Michael Kasprowicz was introduced into the attack and his second ball, a half-tracker, was seized upon by Flintoff, pulling decisively through square leg for a rare boundary. An injured Flintoff or not, gift horses are not to be looked at in the mouth too often, whatever the circumstances.

Warne was not to be seen off, however, and 131-7 became 131-9 in a twinkling of the great man’s eye. Ashley Giles (8) was drawn forward, the edge was found and Hayden took a sharp chance. Steve Harmison was undone first ball for a duck, the ball darting off pad to bat before Ponting took a very sharp chance indeed at silly point. It fell to Simon Jones to save the hat-trick, but the delivery was an anti-climax, too full and a yard wide. The next ball was thrashed through the covers by Jones, leaving Flintoff with the strike.

Kasprowicz presented Flintoff with a half volley and the ball sailed, one-handed, into the crowd. Two balls later, another huge maximum, his seventh of the match, took Flintoff to fifty. Simon Jones, too, got in on the act, smearing Kasprowicz wide of second slip to take the England lead in advance of 250. Kasprowicz’s profligate over had cost his side twenty highly valuable runs in this most intriguing of test matches. As if to signal the breathlessness of the whole occasion, the umpires called for drinks.

Brett Lee was reintroduced, bowling with nine men on the fence when Flintoff was on strike. When Jones faced, the field was brought in, and the bowler-cum-batsman delighted the crowd with a sparkling drive through the off side for another boundary. A mix-up in the running saw Jones having to face five balls of a Warne over, but to roars that echoed around Edgbaston, survive he did with something to spare.

Andrew Flintoff launched Lee completely over the pavilion and out of the ground, then followed that up with a slash past point for four more. The shivers ran up and down the spine as again thoughts went back to Botham as Lee was biffed poker-straight for yet another six. Jones then earned a reprieve when the otherwise immaculate Bowden adjudged the Welshman not out with a ball that knocked him over just inches in front of middle stump.

A swept single took the partnership to fifty, but the end was nigh. Flintoff eventually went for one across the line, dancing down the track to Warne. The ball turned past the flailing blade and unerringly arrowed in on middle peg. Flintoff’s sensational 73 out of 182 included four sixes to add to the five he had hit in the first innings, the most anyone had ever struck in a single Ashes battle. Shane Warne’s undoubted genius had brought him yet another ten-wicket haul in a game and taken him within just one of 600 in his magnificent career.

The victory target for Australia was simple – with seven sessions of the game to go and no hint of a drop of rain on the horizon, they had all the time in the world to make 282 – an unprecedented total to win a game here, and on a pitch that was playing more than a few tricks to boot. An hour earlier, few would have envisaged any problem. The momentum, though, was with England thanks to Flintoff’s heroics. More than a few prayers would have been said in order that he be fit to bowl, so vital a cog is he in the England machinery.

Steve Harmison opened the bowling with a maiden to Justin Langer, bringing Hayden, on a pair, on strike to face Hoggard. Vaughan’s topsy-turvy field of a solitary slip and three men on the drive allowed Hayden to open his account with a streaky boundary to third man. Langer nudged Harmison off his hip for a single down to fine leg, then off the last ball of the over found the fence in the same vicinity after the batsman was tested with a short one.

Hoggard was certainly finding some swing, but Langer seemed to be seeing the ball all the way on to the middle of his bat as successive boundaries demonstrated. The first, a sparkling cover drive, was every bit as good as anything he had played on Day 2 as Australia raced on to 20 in the fourth over. Langer in particular was showing admirable presence at the crease, fully aware of the whereabouts of his off stump. Hayden, on the other hand, displayed the air of a man desperate to feel bat on ball with any consistency.

Ashley Giles was called upon to replace Hoggard and had Ian Bell interested in a possible bat-pad chance off his very first ball to Justin Langer. Hayden finally managed to play a decisive stroke, dancing down the track to loft Giles straight for four as Australia seemed increasingly at ease with their task as the pendulum seemed to be swinging inexorably their way.

Justin Langer was not prepared to allow Giles to settle on a line bowling into the rough stuff, dancing down the track to drive straight for four. When Giles adjusted his length, the classy opener dwelt in his crease and nudged the ball into the covers for an easy single.

The opening partnership having reached 47, Andrew Flintoff, on a hat-trick from the first innings and having the game of his life, was called upon to perform more heroics with the ball. Langer (28) kept out the first, but not the second, dragging the ball on to his stumps to give England that oh-so-vital breakthrough. The Australian captain, Ricky Ponting (0), had a Dickens of a job keeping the next two balls out, rapped on the pad perilously close to the line of off stump. A no-ball prolonged the agony before an absolute ripper found the edge and Geraint Jones gleefully pouched the chance.

It is often difficult to gauge the influence of one man’s hitting and how it can affect the entire state of play of a session, a game or even a series, but not for the first time has the ‘B’ word come to mind when Flintoff’s name has been mentioned. Indeed, not for the first time, England’s finest all-rounder for a quarter of a century had turned a game on its head in a trice.

Simon Jones, so devastating at the end of the Australian first innings, was called upon but over-pitched to the vastly experienced Damien Martyn and he needed no second invitation to find the fence at extra cover and in the process bring up the Australian 50. Martyn found the fence off successive balls from Flintoff, once edging wide of the diving Giles and once neatly turning off his hip to fine leg as England strived to force the door open and Australia in equal measure tried to slam it shut.

Hayden showed that he was prepared to play the sheet-anchor role, reining in his naturally aggressive game as Australia sought to rebuild. England turned to Steve Harmison again, but the big Durham paceman seemed to be having another one of his lacklustre games, unable to muster his usual searing pace.

Flintoff gave way to Simon Jones after a good, aggressive spell but his first ball was a tame long-hop, treated with disdain by Matthew Hayden. Another quite brilliant stroke to an in-swinger saw Hayden punching through mid-off for another boundary, but the next ball proved his undoing. Jones cleverly pitched a little fuller and a little wider, the naturally aggressive Hayden (31) couldn’t resist and Trescothick took a flying catch in the slips. Australia were 82-3 and once again, England were sitting quite pretty in the expensive seats.

A poor ball from Harmison went for four byes, then a splendid square drive brought Hayden four through point. Michael Clarke too found the unusually wayward Harmison much to his liking, spearing the ball poker-straight to the fence. The two sides, the best in the world by a distance, were slugging matters out like heavyweight boxers, toe-to-toe in the middle of the ring, with no quarter asked for and none given.

Damien Martyn had little difficulty in turning a full ball from Jones to the fine leg boundary to bring up the hundred as Australia stepped on the gas, a move that prompted Vaughan to call upon Ashley Giles again. Clarke danced down the track to Giles’s first ball, a move that prompted the Warwickshire spinner to drop the next one a little shorter. Clarke, a gifted player of spin, countered by shuffling forward then rocking back in an instant, clipping the ball square for another boundary.

Vaughan continued to ring the changes, calling upon Matthew Hoggard to do a holding job. Martyn (28), having looked to be in no trouble at all, inexplicably flicked at Hoggard’s first ball and only succeeded in presenting Ian Bell with a diving chance at midwicket, a chance he pouched with ease to reduce the visitors to 107-4.

The helter-skelter affair of a game continued apace when Simon Katich came to the wicket. First ball from Hoggard, he walked into the shot and sent it elegantly through cover to the fence. Two ugly slashes outside off stump in the same over found the edge but both failed to carry, one to slip which raced to the fence at third man and the other short of wicketkeeper Geraint Jones.

Clarke twice used his feet to great effect against Giles, strokes that brought him boundaries through mid on and cover as once again the scoreboard started to rattle around apace, much to the encouragement of Australia. Katich too was quick to pounce on anything errant in line or length, and one late dab off Giles was sheer quality.

Flintoff was thrust to the fore again for one late fling, but it was Giles who made the vital breakthrough. Katich (16) had been keen to use his feet to the ball pitched into the rough but Vaughan positioned a silly mid-off right in the batsman’s eye-line. Two balls later, one that went straight on was edged and Trescothick held a juggling catch at the second attempt. Australia’s fifth wicket had fallen for 134, still 148 short of victory.

Gilchrist opened his account with an inside edge onto pad that flew tantalisingly close to Trescothick, but it was his last contribution of this quite extraordinary match. Giles flighted the ball enticingly into the rough, Gilchrist (1) charged out of his ground and swiped across the line. Instead of finding the fence, his mis-hit only found the waiting bucket hands of Andrew Flintoff at mid-on, bringing night-watchman Jason Gillespie to the crease with Australia six down on 136.

If there was any doubt as to who was likely to pick up the Man of the Match award at this stage, Andrew Flintoff ensured that his name would be in the reckoning. He steamed in, produced an absolute Jaffa and Gillespie (0) was trapped in front of middle stump as though he were a rabbit caught in the headlights of a car – a car travelling at 90 miles per hour.

After protracted discussions with the umpires, England, needing three wickets to square the series, claimed the extra half an hour available to them in order to press for victory. Australia, on 140-7, needed little short of divine intervention or at least a significant contribution from Michael Clarke and Shane Warne.

A faint inside edge was all that preserved Warne’s tenure in the middle when Flintoff, giving everything he had got, got the in-swinging yorker going again, then when the bowler over-pitched, Warne was quick to nudge a brace through mid-on, but he was in all sorts of trouble on more than one occasion in playing out a Giles maiden.

Warne gave Giles more than a little food for thought with successive huge sixes over square leg to take the total past 150, and in the process forced the left-arm spinner to go around the wicket. No first-innings charges down the track any more – both were quality strokes of the highest order and forced Vaughan to change his attack.

There was little quality in the exchange between Clarke and Flintoff as the emotions ran a little too high for both combatants. An attempted slower ball that went on the full past the batsman’s pads prompted an unseemly exchange and brought an intervention from umpire Bowden. There were more sparks in the next over when Warne drove Harmison straight, the bowler pounced and attempted to throw the wicket down as Warne dallied out of his ground. It was a huge chance, and one England could still regret, despite what was to follow.

Steve Harmison, in the last over of the day, summoned one huge final effort, first beating Clarke for pace then seeing the next lob tantalisingly short of gulley. Another, a no-ball, gave Clarke a painful rap on the gloves before the coup-de-grace, and probably the greatest slower ball that Harmison will ever produce in his life, was delivered. Fully 20 miles per hour slower than anything that had come before, the hitherto untroubled Michael Clarke (30) was totally out-thought by the most sublime yorker to bring a magnificent day’s cricket to a fitting close.

Match Summary

England 407 all out
Trescothick 90, Pietersen 71, Flintoff 68
Warne 4-116, Kasprowicz 3-80

and 182 all out
Flintoff 73
Warne 6-46, Lee 4-82

Australia 308 all out
Langer 82, Ponting 61
Flintoff 3-52, Giles 3-78

and 175-8
Flintoff 3-34

Australia require 107 for victory with 2 wickets in hand.

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