Flintoff fires to give England control
England 20 for 1 trail West Indies 224 (Sarwan 63, Chanderpaul 50, Flintoff 5-58) by 204 runs
Andrew Flintoff emerged as England's hero with a thoroughly deserved Test-best 5 for 58 as West Indies collapsed to 224 all out on the first day of the third Test at Bridgetown. Flintoff also helped to justify Michael Vaughan's decision to bowl first, as West Indies lost their last seven wickets for only 57 runs. England then ended a good day's work at 20 for 1.
Flintoff has earned himself the title of England's unluckiest bowler thanks to the number of missed chances off his bowling. However, today he finally got some recognition for his whole-hearted efforts - although he still had his usual quota of dropped catches. He took the big wickets of Brian Lara and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who, along with Ramnaresh Sarwan, were the only batsmen to put up a fight for West Indies.
England's bowling - and fielding - wasn't at its best. The attack tended to bowl too short, and there were three dropped slip catches. However, West Indies couldn't capitalise on that, and despite a strong middle session, they had another day to forget.
After the Windies had slumped to 20 for 2, Sarwan and Chanderpaul managed to steady the ship. Sarwan, the vice-captain, played sensibly, and added 68 resuscitating runs with Lara. He hit seven boundaries in his 19th Test half-century, and played shots all round the wicket, but without ever quite letting loose. Sarwan also put on 79 with Chanderpaul, until he drove airily at a full ball outside off from Stephen Harmison for Flintoff to take a head-high catch at second slip for 63 (167 for 4).
Chanderpaul played one of his characteristic gritty, bitty innings. He stuck around for over two hours, but it should have been much less than that: at 10, he dangled his bat at another good-length delivery from Flintoff, and Mark Butcher, at third slip, fluffed a straightforward chance. However, Flintoff got his man later in the day, in the middle of the collapse, caught at slip - this time by Graham Thorpe, for 50 (198 for 7).
The middle session was West Indies' sole highlight in between more abject performances with the bat. While all eyes were on how the man of the moment Harmison would perform, it was the under-rated Matthew Hoggard who was the more threatening of the two, and he got England going. He was rewarded for his accuracy when he zeroed another one back into the left-handed Chris Gayle's pads, and Rudi Koertzen sent him on his way, even though the replays suggested the ball would have missed leg stump (6 for 1).
Daren Ganga, dropped early on by Thorpe and reprieved when seemingly trapped plumb in front by Harmison, couldn't make the most of his let-offs. He finally padded up to one from Harmison that cut back in sharply. Hair lifted the dreaded finger, although the replays again suggested it would have missed off stump (20 for 2).
Lara, as if to make up for his much-criticised decision to drop down to No. 6 in Trinidad, purposefully strode out after Gayle's wicket. He took his time to get going, but then began to show signs of returning to his best with some belting cover-drives off both feet.
But just as Lara was threatening to break loose, Flintoff struck gold. He forced Lara to prod forward at a full-length ball, and this time Butcher held on to the chance at gully (88 for 3). While England celebrated, Lara stayed there for a few seconds, holding his head in frustration at his loose shot and lack of footwork.
Flintoff will take all the plaudits, but it was Harmison who took the big wicket of Sarwan after tea, to prompt the major collapse. After Sarwan fell, Harmison literally bounced out Ryan Hinds. After clunking him on the helmet with a nasty short one, Harmison banged in two more throat-balls. Hinds took on the second one, but only spooned a catch to Simon Jones at fine leg (179 for 5). Then it was Ridley Jacobs's turn to get the short stuff, and he found a Flintoff fireball too hot to handle, fending it away to England's specialist substitute, Paul Collingwood, running in from point (197 for 6). Collingwood was on for Matthew Hoggard, who had succumbed to cramp. Another slip catch accounted for Pedro Collins, who edged Jones to Marcus Trescothick (208 for 8), and West Indies had lost five wickets for 41.
Tino Best, dropped second ball by Butcher off Flintoff - no surprises there - added 17 valuable runs, but then the on-off Flintoff-Butcher combination worked for the second time, as Best gloved a catch out to the slips (224 for 9). That was Flintoff's fourth scalp, and no-one was going to deny him that magical fifth. Fidel Edwards was the man who happened to be in the way, and when he tickled the ball behind to Chris Read, Flintoff was tickled pink. The emotion on his face was clear to see - even Duncan Fletcher, England's usually taciturn coach, managed a smile.
The only blemish for England was another failure for Trescothick, bowled by Edwards for 2 - he's now scored only 20 runs in his last six Test ininngs - but Vaughan and Butcher saw out the rest of a long and satisfying day for England.