Flintoff - and the rain - take England through
England 251 for 7 (Flintoff 104, Trescothick 66) beat Sri Lanka 95 for 5 by 49 runs (Duckworth/Lewis method)
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Andrew Flintoff produced yet another breathtaking assault in the closing overs of an innings, recording his third one-day hundred to propel England into the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy. Ultimately they owed their progression to yet more rain, which, as on the first day, swept across in the early afternoon and refused to budge.
But by that stage, Flintoff and Steve Harmison had combined to send Sri Lanka spiralling to 95 for 5, and victory was all but assured. The eventual margin, according to Messrs Duckworth and Lewis, was 49 runs, and England progress to a lip-smacking semi-final against Australia at Edgbaston on Tuesday.
Flintoff is in such a stunningly rich vein of form at the moment, that every new performance is a candidate for his greatest yet. But this was something else entirely. Despite their steady but unspectacular progress on Friday, England had resumed at 118 for 3 in something of a fix, knowing that they would not only have to negotiate those tricky early-morning conditions for the second day running, but they would also have to put enough runs on the board to take the fight to Sri Lanka's big hitters. As it turned out, Flintoff provided them with all those runs and more, as England crashed 78 from the last six overs, to finish with a hefty 251 for 7.
With Paul Collingwood once again displaying his temperament and eye for an opportunity, England converted a position of some vulnerability into one of near-total dominance. Collingwood and Flintoff added 94 priceless runs in 12.2 overs, as England took control of their destiny for the first time in the match. And yet, the day began in calamitous circumstances for England, and, had Sri Lanka been able to cling onto their chances, the result could have been oh-so-different.
At the start of the day, Flintoff and Marcus Trescothick had represented England's best hopes of a 200-plus total, as they already had an unbeaten 48-run partnership under their belts. But Sri Lanka needed just nine balls of the day to make the breakthrough, when Trescothick was run out for 66. Tillakaratne Dilshan fielded a Flintoff on-drive off his own bowling and threw down the stumps with Trescothick still stranded in mid-pitch, after taking evasive action.
Three balls later and England's situation might have been even worse, as Flintoff flicked Dilshan high towards deep midwicket. Upul Chandana, however, made good ground but was unable to get his fingers underneath the ball, and yet another chance had gone begging. Flintoff had been reprieved on the first day as well - badly dropped by Mahela Jayawardene at first slip. No side in the world can afford to make that same mistake twice these days.
Flintoff's response was circumspect at first, as he and Collingwood patted the ball around to calm the nerves and begin the consolidation process. He allowed himself one indulgence, as an effortless drive whistled through the covers, but it wasn't until the 45th over that England really launched their assault.
Up till then, Chandana had bowled a fine spell, but now his second ball skidded away for four wides, and when Collingwood, who had been slightly becalmed, followed up with a sweetly timed pull for four, the floodgates were opened. A quick single allowed Flintoff to take strike, and he launched the first of his three sixes - a huge smite over long-on. Chandana's over had gone for 22, and England were already within touching distance of the 200-plus total they craved.
Even Chaminda Vaas couldn't stem the tide, as Collingwood flicked him exquisitely for four over his shoulder and past the man at short backward-square. Though Collingwood was eventually caught on the midwicket boundary for 39 - an excellently judged catch by Jayawardene, inches inside the rope - Flintoff was by now giving himself room at every opportunity, and hoofing the ball high over the field, almost at a four a ball.
Two more fours off Vaas and a scampered two carried Flintoff to a brilliant hundred from just 89 balls, and when he fell in the same over, his stumps spread-eagled by a slower ball from Vaas, the entire crowd rose as one to salute yet another magnificent innings. Part one of the job was already done, and the remainder of the innings unravelled quickly, as Alex Wharf was run out first ball, and Geraint Jones scampered a single off the last delivery.
Sri Lanka had perhaps been marginal favourites at the start of play, but now the momentum was all with England. Harmison came rampaging through the breach, blasting Avishka Gunawardene and Marvan Atapattu from the crease inside his first three overs, and Darren Gough, on his 34th birthday, should have added a third scalp, when Sanath Jayasuriya was badly dropped by Vikram Solanki at point.
Gough, however, wasn't about to let his man off the hook. Into the attack came Flintoff, and after one fine front-foot biff for four, Jayasuriya holed out to mid-off, where Gough timed his leap to perfection (48 for 3). There was, however, some concern for England, as Gough left the field for treatment shortly afterwards. His ageing limbs are no longer designed for such acrobatics.
The introduction of Wharf seemed at first to have eased the pressure on Sri Lanka, as Saman Jayantha cracked his opening over for 11, including two fours on opposite sides of the wicket. But to his credit Wharf knuckled down, found his line and length, and conceded only two runs from his next two overs. His accuracy was just the foil that England needed, and Jayantha became Flintoff's second victim, as he scuffed an attempted steer to third man and was caught behind for 22 (74 for 4).
The contest was effectively over when Jayawardene slapped a full-toss back to a juggling Ashley Giles (88 for 5). Moments later the rains swept in and the players fled the field. Despite several projected restarts, neither side held out much hope of making it back to the middle, and the umpires eventually threw in the (soggy) towel at around 4.30pm.