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April 13, 2004
Close England 285 (Flintoff 102*) and 145 for 0 (Trescothick 74*, Vaughan 61*) trail West Indies 751 for 5 dec (Lara 400*, Jacobs 107*) by 321 runs
Andrew Flintoff produced the most disciplined innings of his Test career at precisely the moment it was most needed, as England manoeuvred themselves into a position from which they should not be able to lose this match. By the close of the fourth day, Michael Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick had reminded everyone just how true this pitch is, as they eased to 145 for 0 in the follow-on. But without Flintoff's first-innings 102 not out - from an un-Flintoffian 224 balls and in a shade over five hours - they might never have been pointed in the right direction.
At the start of the day's play, England were in a right fix. They had slumped to 171 for 5 in reply to West Indies' massive Lara-inspired 751 for 5, and when Geraint Jones's defiant debut innings was ended by the first ball he received from Fidel Edwards, England were still 569 runs adrift, with four first-innings wickets in hand. Quite clearly, it was time - not runs - that was of the essence if Flintoff was to help save the game for England.
And he duly obliged. Apart from one feisty over from Edwards, which went for 17 - including a hooked six and a one-bounce pull for four - Flintoff approached his century with the utmost caution, turning down easy singles to keep the strike and taking the various glares from Edwards and Tino Best in his considerable stride. He was never entirely comfortable in his defensive role and required some strokes of good fortune, but he earned his luck as well, as he pushed forward at every opportunity and only rarely allowed his natural game to dictate his attitude.
After being embarrassingly dropped in mid-celebration by Lara late last night, Flintoff was reprieved on two further occasions. On 56, he was put down by Ricardo Powell, diving full-stretch to his left at third slip, then at 67 Pedro Collins couldn't cling onto a checked drive as he reached to his right in his follow-through. But in between, Flintoff nudged and thumped his way to a level-headed and extremely valuable hundred. The best shot of his innings was also his most effortless - a wonderfully timed drive which streaked away for four to bring up his fifty.
Flintoff's innings was all the more impressive for the way the tail drew strength from his presence. Gareth Batty coped ably with the raw pace of Best and Edwards, until succumbing to Collins's subtle outswingers; Matthew Hoggard overcame illness to resist valiantly for the best part of an hour, and Simon Jones batted with such straight-batted common sense that West Indies began to wonder where their next wicket would be coming from.
But the situation changed when Jones was withdrawn for treatment after Best had struck him a painful blow on his unguarded left forearm. England's No. 11, Steve Harmison, seemed unfazed by the prospect of survival, and immediately pulled Best for a stand-and-deliver four over midwicket, but Best bounced back in his next over, clipping the top of Harmison's stumps with the perfect tail-end delivery.
Jones then surprised everyone by marching back out to the middle to resume the battle, but he couldn't pick up where he had left off. He was trapped on the back foot by Ryan Hinds and sent on his way by umpire Aleem Dar, even though his reaction indicated he had got a thin outside-edge before the ball struck pad. Brian Lara quickly enforced the follow-on, with England still a whopping 466 runs in arrears.
England were left with a minimum of 138 overs in which to survive, and by tea they had lopped 10 runs off the deficit in six cagey overs. But once again, Trescothick was all at sea, and should even have been sent on his way for a duck, after gloving Best down the leg-side to Jacobs. But Darrell Hair turned down the appeal, and Trescothick sensed an opportunity to cash in.
Sure enough, both he and Vaughan chugged along to their first half-centuries of the series, as the fans in the stands began to relax and an end-of-term atmosphere permeated the ground. It was more important than just a walk in the park for Trescothick though, and by the time he brought up his fifty, he had discovered his balance at the crease, and was more secure in his footwork than at any time since the Bangladesh tour in October. As Lara himself demonstrated to such glorious effect earlier in the match, this pitch really is a belter if you put your mind to it.
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