England v Sri Lanka, Southampton, Pool D September 18, 2004

Majestic Flintoff hides England's flaws

The Wisden Verdict by Hugh Chevallier

Andrew Flintoff: another masterful century, but he was dropped twice © Getty Images

Even in this summer of Flintoff marvels, this hundred was something special. But before we get carried away with images of Freddie larruping Lee, murdering McGrath and gallumphing Gillespie all over Edgbaston in the first semi-final of the Champions Trophy - this time he may have to work a little harder to pick out his father in the top tier of the Ryder Stand - it's worth sounding a note of caution.

Flintoff should have been caught at slip with just a single to his name. Mahela Jayawardene dropped the straightforward chance on Friday; the Australian cordon is unlikely to do the same on Tuesday. And even if they do, there's a fat chance of his being given two lives, as the Sri Lankans so kindly did here. Australians simply aren't that generous. (Upul Chandana was the toast of the Rose Bowl crowd this morning when he reprieved Flintoff, on just 24 at the time, at deep midwicket.)

OK, caveats over. This was a majestic innings, all the better for being constructed on a tricky Rose Bowl pitch that offered the bowlers a bit of swing, seam and occasional low bounce. It also provided confirmation, if any were needed, of Freddie's arrival at maturity. This wasn't a young man in a hurry, this was the possessor of a shrewd cricket brain batting out of his skin, as he has all year. And it was that rare thing in English cricket: a hugely talented player realising his enormous potential.

Flintoff came in yesterday after England had laboured to 70 for 3, and didn't find conditions easy - as that early waft to slip suggested. But there's nothing of the labourer about the new model Freddie. Early in his career, he gave little thought to constructing an innings, giving free rein instead to the misplaced enthusiasm of the over-eager apprentice. Now, though, we can look with awe at the technique of a master craftsman. Power, and plenty of it, has been tempered and refined by control and finesse. At pacing an innings, Flintoff has few peers.

It was vital that he and Marcus Trescothick knuckled down early on, and although his circumspection wasn't riveting, it was totally right. With his phenomenal ability to accelerate, what mattered was that he was there to step on the gas.

And how he did. Flintoff's first fifty (which took him past 2000 ODI runs) came from 69 balls, his second from a rip-snorting 20. Helped for much of the time by the unflappable Paul Collingwood, he ensured England added an effervescent 100 from the last ten overs to steer them to 251. Flintoff's hundred was as memorable for the ones and twos as the nine fours and three sixes. Not trademark Flintoff, but a perfect indication of his versatility.

Collingwood, too, played a blinder. In this summer's seven Test victories, Flintoff forged a happy alliance with Geraint Jones. They scored at a merry old rate - and let it be known that they enjoyed batting together. The admirable Collingwood seems to be filling the Jones role in one-dayers: second fiddle, and one sweetly on song.

It's a harmonious state of affairs for England, and much is going right just now. The major worry in the shorter game, however, is the form of Michael Vaughan. On Friday, he set off towards point and lost his middle stump playing a hitherto undocumented shot: something vaguely like the behind-the-back sweep. Vaughan's last ten one-day innings have contributed 147 runs at under 15, while Flintoff's have brought 606 at more than 75. Figures never tell the whole story, but the tale these tell is hard to ignore.

Hugh Chevallier is deputy editor of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack.