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Peter English at Brisbane
November 24, 2006
Once again only Andrew Flintoff managed not to burst. The series is young but he is already in danger of carrying as much weight as Andy Flower when he was dragging Zimbabwe. The burden is a worry for his left ankle, which is still being strengthened after surgery.
As captain Flintoff is caught between using himself as the best option or waiting uncomfortably in the hope one of his team-mates eases the workload. Matthew Hoggard briefly lifted when he accounted for both Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist, but the score had already ballooned to 467. Flintoff employed himself intermittently and reliably. He waited an hour before bowling in the morning and it took a cut Ponting boundary that brought up the 400 to stir a brilliant short spell.
A frightening lifter that might have brushed Ponting's glove was immediately produced, but half a dozen replays could not prove whether Steve Bucknor called correctly. Nine's new "Hot Shot" technology was absent and conspiracy theorists remembered Ponting's contract with the station. A play and a miss and a ball moving away that twisted the bat in Ponting's hands finished the over. It was a remarkable collection to a humming batsman on 167.
Michael Hussey had also been causing problems and Flintoff decided he would copy last year's approach to Adam Gilchrist and go around the wicket. A vicious off-cutter upended the off stump and sent it spinning in the direction of fine leg. Michael Clarke, who was playing for his short-term future, narrowly escaped the rest of the five-over spell and raised a half-century.
The England fielders were as slow as the over-rate and Flintoff was forced back to try and close the innings. He had returned 4 for 99 when Ponting saved him some energy with the declaration at 602. Fortunately for England Flintoff's dressing-room rest was not disturbed by McGrath's return to the game.
For 11 months there have been questions over whether McGrath would make an Ashes impact. It took only three overs for him to let everybody know he would continue to be an England menace. Wickets 137 and 138 against the most familiar enemy came in consecutive deliveries. While the first dismissal relied on Andrew Strauss' poor swipe, the removal of Alastair Cook could have been arranged at any time over the past decade.
Two excellent bowlers were on display but only one worked with assistance. Flintoff was let down throughout the first innings while McGrath was able to combine with both Brett Lee and Stuart Clark, who took care of Paul Collingwood. Australia have stuck together and despite Flintoff's effort England appear to be falling apart. They will be mashed if they cannot muster something substantial on day three.
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