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April 3, 2009
England 172 for 5 (Pietersen 48) beat West Indies 146 (Flintoff 5-19) by 26 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
It has been a tough winter for all of England's cricketers, but Flintoff has had it harder than most - his struggle for runs continued today when he was brilliantly caught at midwicket for 3, and having missed the mid-part of the tour with a hip complaint, it's hard to escape the fitness cloud that hangs over his career. But, when he's injury-free he's arguably the most irresistible bowler in the world game, and he proved that today with a performance that blew away both England's opponents, as well as the fog of gloom that has been hanging around the squad in recent weeks.
Set a testing but by no means unattainable 173 to win, West Indies' prospects suffered an immediate set-back when their man of the moment, Chris Gayle, fell for a third-ball duck to the newly unveiled Wisden Cricketer of the Year, James Anderson. But it was Flintoff who changed the game in two distinct spells - first, he ended a dangerous second-wicket stand between Ramnaresh Sarwan and Lendl Simmons by claiming both men in the space of five deliveries.
Then, with West Indies already on the ropes following the back-to-back dismissals of Dwayne Bravo (33) and Kieron Pollard (30), Flintoff stormed through the tail to ensure against any late twist to the narrative. First to go was Denesh Ramdin, who shuffled into line to a full-length inswinger, but worked the ball onto the base of his own stumps. One delivery later, and Ravi Rampaul was gone as well, pinned on the crease by a shin-high full-toss, and then, with the England fans finding their voice and the West Indians starting to stream out of the exits, he produced a superlative yorker to demolish Sulieman Benn's defences.
That delivery made Flintoff the third Englishman in history to record an ODI hat-trick, and peculiarly, both of his predecessors, Anderson and Steve Harmison, were on hand to mob him as he struck a modelling pose in the middle of the pitch and awaited his plaudits. Though Fidel Edwards did exceptionally well to prevent it being four from four as he dug out another yorker, the end of the innings came swiftly, as Darren Sammy ran himself out for 7 while seeking a second run with six balls of the innings remaining.
Sammy, the St Lucian local hero, had earlier been at the centre of the most controversial moment of the match, when he claimed a catch at backward point off Pietersen that appeared from the TV replays to have bounced on the turf as he dived forward to scoop it into his chest. It could well have been the decisive moment of the match, with Pietersen on 48 from 48 balls and bristling with intent after a week in which his commitment to the cause had been called into question.
England's innings had suffered an early set-back when Andrew Strauss fell for 3 to the first ball of Ravi Rampaul's international comeback, but Pietersen and Ravi Bopara combined in a decent stand of 80 in 14 overs to revive England's prospects of a defendable total. But as so often happens, Pietersen's dismissal destabilised the innings. Bopara looked to be finding his range when he twice pulled Sammy over square leg for six, but having reached 44 from 48 balls, he tried the shot once too often, this time against Pollard, and Ramdin had all the time in the world to wander round from behind the stumps to claim a steepling top-edge.
From that moment on, West Indies claimed the ascendancy through their battery of slower bowlers. Owais Shah tried to apply some oomph, but his aggressive swipe at Benn picked out Simmons at long-on, before Flintoff, in terrible form with the ball, clipped Pollard to midwicket where Chanderpaul dived full-length to his right to intercept another pull.
Edwards, whose pacy two-over burst had disappeared for 17, was ignored as Gayle brought his teasingly slow spinners into the action, and England's sixth-wicket pair of Collingwood and Matt Prior groped their way to seven runs in 3.1 overs before calling upon their batting Powerplay. Duly liberated, Collingwood heaved Pollard over square leg for six in an over that went for 14, England's best of the innings.
A frustrated Prior eventually found his range with three fours in a run-a-ball 25, and Collingwood cleverly worked the ball through fine leg in a final over that went for 13 to give England a chance. It was one that Flintoff grasped with both hands. The St Lucian beach attendants better pack up their pedaloes. There'll be plenty to celebrate tonight.
What's wrong with their cricket? Well, what isn't?