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The long-awaited Freddie Flintoff comeback leads this week's countdown of the things that mattered in the NatWest T20 Blast
July 7, 2014
Cricket Brain 2014: Alex Wakely
5. Freddie's triumphant return
And so it happened. We wondered if it ever would, with squad after squad named without him. Then, when it appeared to be on against Warwickshire, the rains came and washed out any hope. Even Glamorgan tested the waters, registering an interest in taking him on loan but, no, we were assured - it was Lancashire or nothing.
Much has been made of Andrew Flintoff's return already, five years on from his previous competitive game of cricket. The suggestion that he overshadowed what was the perfect T20 game - over 400 runs, blitzing cameos and an exciting chase - is an entirely fair yet also very county cricket, gripe. The press box at New Road barely makes a hum above the intermittent sound of the drinks machine in the corner. With Flintoff in town, it was rocking (relatively speaking) to "thank god, finally" sighs from the media, who have chased him around the North Division. But hey, exposure for the game is exposure for the game.
He was not needed at first, as Lancashire posted a brilliant 229 for 4. Down at No. 8, as ever with Flintoff, it is the batting that takes the most work, even in this swing-happy game. When he did take to the field, he was the fifth bowler used and was taken for 15 in his first over. Eight runs in the first three balls of his second suggested car-crash potential and chatter about the wisdom in coming out of retirement. But, the wickets of Tom Kohler-Cadmore and Alexei Kervezee gave his figures a respectable gleam.
Of course, there will be some who say he doesn't need this to be back in the circuit. But the very fact that he doesn't need cricket in his life shows how much he wants it.
4. Chelmsford sticks by its own
It is hard to know how to gauge public support for Alastair Cook, aside from typing his name into Twitter and trawling through the endless criticisms of his captaincy and batting squalor. It is by no means a worthwhile or fruitful pastime. He can only win England fans around in his own, minimalistic way and, even then, there will be a large majority who see his part in the ostracising of Kevin Pietersen as unforgivable.
But on Friday, as Surrey took on Cook's county of Essex, the tables were turned. Pietersen came to the crease to a chorus of boos, followed by an "IN-GER-LUND" chant that reverberated around the ECG. After faffing about for 11 balls, scoring only one run, he charged slow left-armer Tim Phillips and was stumped off a wide, before getting an almighty send-off from the partisan home crowd. It was worse than anything Andrew Strauss could discretely throw at him.
Player focus: Jim Allenby (Glamorgan)
3. Big Show or No Show?
What is up with Glenn Maxwell? Eighty runs in seven innings is far from what we and he would have wanted or expected. The very nature of his game is 'all or nothing' but against Somerset at the Ageas Bowl there was a disconcerting deference to the bowlers and a furious smashing of his bat when he was sold down the river by Michael Carberry.
For followers of Maxwell and domestic T20 cricket across the world, this blip is merely an extension of his IPL form in the second half of the season. Having started with a bang in the UAE, with 300 runs in five matches, he returned just 252 in the next 11 on Indian soil. Better fielding, trickier conditions and the snowballing effect of bad knocks are all contributing factors.
Regardless of your allegiances or opinions on Maxwell, his shoddy run of form comes at the detriment of English T20 cricket as much as it does Hampshire.
2. Shreck misdemeanour benefits Ireland
Charlie Shreck is regarded as one of the most popular figures around the county circuit. Since coming into the domestic game at the age of 25, the "Cornish Joel Garner" has notched more than 500 wickets across all forms of the game. But when he was handed the ball for the last over of Derbyshire's innings, a second waist-high full toss of the match resulted in him being taken out of the attack. Anthony Ireland was tasked with bowling the remaining five deliveries. Four wickets followed, including three in four balls for Ireland and a run-out off the last ball. Credit, of course, is due to Ireland for his first five-wicket haul in T20. But were it not for Shreck's selflessness - inadvertent or otherwise - he would not have had the chance for such a heroic feat. What a bloke.
1. Let there be light
Gloucestershire's impressive win over Sussex was somewhat, well, overshadowed by the drastically fading Bristol light. Despite being an international ground, it is without floodlights and Sussex were well within their rights to complain. To their credit, they got on with the task at hand, however futile it turned out to be.
Bristol is one of six county headquarters without floodlights - Yorkshire (who hope to have them installed at Headingley by 2015), Durham, Somerset, Leicestershire and Worcestershire are the others - but the ECB currently has no plans to make them mandatory for hosting T20.
"We are supportive of all those counties without floodlights should they choose to install them. However, it has to be right for them and right for their business plan," the ECB's Andrew Walpole said. "As well as the financial cost, there is the issue of planning and building permission that needs to be sorted out. While the ECB is more than happy to help these counties out in all of those aspects, there is no pressure on them to do so."
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