December 20, 2001

Flintoff thrilled with Test-best haul

Santosh S

Andrew Flintoff is a big lad with a big heart. Even though he has miles to go before he becomes a good all-rounder, Flintoff need not look any further for inspiration; Ian Botham inspired a whole generation, be it in England or in any part of the world. Flintoff has it in him to be as good as the legend turned TV commentator these days.

'Beefy' was in the press box, watching Flintoff in action with interest. The great all-rounder had single-handedly destroyed India in the Golden Jubilee Test in Mumbai in 1980. England would love to win this Test match as well, and Flintoff has shown that he has the potential to be a match winner. Converting that to kinetic is the big challenge for this young man.

On the second day of the third and final Test in Bangalore, Flintoff finished the day with the figures of 15-4-30-3. The big lad bowled an inspired spell, bowling with a lot of pace and commitment. The focus was there as he worked up a good pace and made almost all the batsmen hop to fend at the short pitched stuff.

Flintoff first removed the wicket-keeper/batsman Deep Dasgupta; a perfect ball outside the off stump was good enough to lure the batsman to give catching practice to the reliable Marcus Trescothick in the slips. It was a gloomy afternoon and the crowd sensed the danger for the home team; there was something in the track for the fast bowlers!

The Lancastrian had to push to a higher level to deal with VVS Laxman, who threatened to take the attack apart. A few perfectly directed bouncers softened Laxman up, and Flintoff then delivered the killer punch; getting the ball to swing in at a good pace to shatter the stumps. Flintoff's joy was there to be seen as he was hugged and congratulated by his mates.

Shiv Sunder Das had started with a boundary off the first ball he faced. With Ashley Giles bowling a leg-side line, the runs were squeezed out; Flintoff kept the pressure on by testing the batsmen with short-pitched stuff. There was pace and bounce, which ensured that Das and Sachin Tendulkar played him with a lot of respect. The pressure took its toll and Das played on to a sharp delivery from Flintoff.

Three wickets for the man who wasn't initially in the touring squad! After arriving as back-up to the established all-rounder Craig White, Flintoff has taken the opportunity with both hands, bowling with a lot of pace, and most importantly impressing his skipper Nasser Hussain.

After close of play on Thursday, CricInfo caught up with Flintoff. In an exclusive interview he spoke about his game and the match situation. Of his three top wickets he said: "The ball came out quite nicely and I got some luck as well. Three wickets puts England in a decent position and hopefully tomorrow morning we can capitalise on that. I have worked hard with the ball. My back has stood up to it and I have been bowling for a year or so."

Freddie is disappointed but also optimistic about his batting. "As you say my batting has not gone according to plan. I am working on it - hopefully one good knock and it might all turn around."

Flintoff is realistic about his game. "I have worked hard during the summer back at Lancashire. Working with the coaches there - it is a team effort. I had bowled for a long time, the lads helped me out and slightly changed my action. Touch wood, so far, it is working."

When asked about his battle with Sourav Ganguly that has added spice to the Test series, Flintoff said with a cheeky smile, "He played for Lancashire for a season. I know him quite well, played in the same side as him, so maybe it gets a bit competitive when he comes out to bat."

The pitch has been at the centre of much speculation, and is still generating plenty of interest. Flintoff reckons that it might take spin. "The odd ball is skidding through, it's got a bit slower now and the ball has got a bit softer, hopefully on day three, four and five it might start spinning."

It was a good second day for the tourists after all the disappointments of the first day, which saw Michael Vaughan given out 'handled the ball' and a batting collapse. Flintoff has been clocking around the 90 mph mark in this series and is a serious threat to the Indian batsmen, who are not known to handle hot pace too well. When asked about the mood in the English camp, Flintoff said: "Everybody is upbeat, we had a good day today and hopefully tomorrow morning chip a couple of wickets out and we are in the game."

The crowd will have a lot to cheer tomorrow, and the action will hot up when Flintoff charges in to bowl to the Indian skipper. Nasser Hussain might be regretting the fact that he did not include one more fast bowler in the team. But the English skipper can take heart from the fact that in Flintoff he has a fast bowler capable of blowing the Indian batting away.