Flintoff helps Lancashire to quarter-finals
Lancashire 151 for 7 (Prince 41, Naik 3-30) beat Leicestershire 133 (Cobb 60, Flintoff 3-26) by 18 runs
Andrew Flintoff faced four balls and managed only one run as he wielded a bat in competitive cricket for the first time in five years but took three wickets to help Lancashire secure their place in the quarter-finals of the NatWest T20 Blast.
Lancashire's score looked vulnerable as Leicestershire reached the last five overs needing only 43 with six wickets in hand after Josh Cobb and the New Zealand big hitter Scott Styris had put on 35 in five and a half overs to give their side a fighting chance.
But then Flintoff returned to the attack for his third over, the first of those final five, having claimed an important scalp when Niall O'Brien holed out to deep square leg after hitting him for six and four during the Powerplay overs, after which the former England allrounder had 1 for 17 from two overs.
Now Styris went after him, launching a huge blow towards the long-on boundary. But Steven Croft, who was Lancashire's other hero on the night with three wickets and three catches, read its trajectory, eyed up the boundary rope and skilfully got himself under the ball to parry it back into play as his own momentum carried him over the rope, stepping back inside to complete the catch as the ball came back down.
That was a big blow for Leicestershire's hopes and it was followed immediately by another as Cobb, who had hit 60 off 51 balls in a fine effort on a slow pitch, sliced Junaid Khan to deep cover, where Ashwell Prince took the catch.
Cobb took with him Leicestershire's best chance and when Flintoff took his third wicket with the last ball of his final over, Croft taking another catch at long-on to see off Tom Wells, desperation set in and the home side failed even to complete their allocation, losing their last three wickets in seven balls.
Thus the second match of his Twenty20 comeback with Lancashire confirmed that his selection has been more than justified, this performance, following on from his two wickets against Worcestershire last week, pretty much cementing his place in the side for the remainder of the competition, however far it takes Lancashire.
Junaid's stint with the county finishes after their next fixture - the first of two at Old Trafford, against Derbyshire and Durham - and Flintoff is already demonstrating that he still has the nerve to bowl under pressure.
Whether he can contribute with the bat remains to be seen. Having not been needed at New Road, he came in at 111 for 6 in the 16th over this time with Lancashire struggling to put together a competitive total.
There were cheers as he jogged through for a single to his third delivery against Cobb's leg spin, pushing the ball to mid-on. But back on strike in the same over, Flintoff swung across the line and missed. Cobb appealed for leg before, umpire Alex Wharf took a moment to consider the matter, then raised the finger.
It was Flintoff's first competitive innings since the second innings of the final Test of the 2009 Ashes series at The Oval, on August 22, 2009, and his first for Lancashire since he hit 93 in a Twenty20 at Derby on June 25 of the same year.
There was a brief injury scare. As Kabir Ali bowled the first ball of Leicestershire's innings, Flintoff pulled off a fine diving stop at slip to deny Cobb a boundary but had to race off the field for emergency repairs after splitting the little finger of his right hand. Happily, a plaster was all that was required.
Prince's 41 off 35 balls was the biggest contribution to Lancashire's total and a few meaty blows from Flintoff's bat would have come in handy. As it was, they were indebted to Jordan Clark and Kabir, whose 37 combined off the last three overs gave Lancashire just enough to defend.
Flintoff, sheltering in the Lancashire dressing room as supporters gathered in front of the Grace Road pavilion, among whom some of the stragglers from a crowd of around 3,000 having clearly lubricated themselves lavishly, declined to fight his way through to speak to the media.
But Croft stepped out to sing his praises: "Freddie has come in after four or five years out of the game and been brilliant, in the field as well, putting his body on the line to save four from the first ball, it was like he had never been away.
"He has put himself into a tough situation and done well. His first two balls last week went for four and six and he might have thought, 'what have I done?' but he has come back well and turned it round.
"He has bowled really well for us twice and if you look around the country there are only a handful of quality death bowlers, yet he can still get them down, with a bit of reverse swing and he is not slow. He is going to be an asset going into the quarter finals and hopefully beyond.
"The batting can be difficult because you only get one chance and it is tough coming in at the end with people expecting you to hit the ball out of the park, but I think he will win us a game with the bat as well down the line."