Kent v Lancashire, Canterbury, 1st day July 18, 2006

Flintoff on track in fitness battle

Cricinfo staff

Kent 130 for 4 (Walker 32*, Bravo 9*, Flintoff 2-16) trail Lancashire 218 (Cross 72, Law 53, Henderson 4-29) by 88 runs

Andrew Flintoff stepped up his comeback after a couple of Twenty20 matches for Lancashire © Getty Images
Andrew Flintoff showed that he is ready to return as England captain with an impressive spell of bowling during his first-class comeback against Kent, at Canterbury. After falling for just 4 in Lancashire's disappointing 218, Flintoff struck with his first ball to remove Robert Key. He then trapped Martin van Jaarsveld lbw and held a fine catch at second slip for good measure.

If Flintoff comes through his first first-class match since the final Test against Sri Lanka at Trent Bridge, without any reaction, he will lead England in the next Test against Pakistan, starting on July 27 at Old Trafford. The final day at Lord's showed how much England are waiting for Flintoff to return, as Strauss played it very safe with his four-man attack and never really pushed for victory.

The early signs are promising after he generated decent pace in his opening six-over burst, before returning for four more later on, as Lancashire fought back some lost ground by removing four Kent wickets before the close. Flintoff had been part of an under-par effort with the bat when he tried to cut a ball from Tyron Henderson and was caught behind.

It was left to Gareth Cross, the second-team wicketkeeper covering for the injured Luke Sutton, to save face with a Flintoff-style 72 off 56 balls. His innings included three sixes, including one cut over cover-point off Amjad Khan. Stuart Law made a classy half-century but Henderson did the major damage with a spell of 4 for 1 in 19 balls.

However, all eyes were on Flintoff. He played in two of Lancashire's Twenty20 matches but this was the first real test of how his ankle would stand up to the strains of an extended outing. The script went in typical Flintoff fashion as he castled his best mate, Key, with his first ball before removing van Jaarsveld. He also had a hand in the third breakthrough as he plucked a fine catch out of the air, above his head, at second slip to shift David Fulton. Dominic Cork, never one to be overshadowed for too long, nabbed one for himself before the close to leave honours even.

They key now for Flintoff is how he backs up tomorrow with his remaining spells. The England management will want to be convinced that he can cope with a five-day Test where, if the pitch at Old Trafford is as quick as expected, he'll bowl plenty of overs. A few runs wouldn't go amiss second time around either, both for Lancashire's sake and his own form heading into the rest of the Pakistan series.