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August 16, 2005
At exactly 6pm on the last day, Andrew Flintoff bowled a big away-swinger which bruised the edge of Shane Warne's bat and flew to the keeper. It ended a stubborn stand of 74 and carried England to the brink of victory, with only two wickets to get.
After bowling several long spells Flintoff had been running on near empty. His willpower and his home crowd, who roared themselves hoarse, kept him pounding in. "The crowd played a big role," said Michael Vaughan afterwards. "It's no coincidence that when they get behind us the odd wicket falls. When they go quiet, we're generally quiet."
Spectators love Flintoff. Partly that is down to his bar-emptying big hitting. Largely it is because he is like them. To save his bowling he had to become less of the happy-go-lucky fellow down the pub. He lost weight and volunteered for a hard stint at the ECB Academy. It was a struggle. Talent can be both blessing and curse because it brings responsibility.
Where once he really could have been one of the crowd he is now the same as them but different. He has shouldered his responsibility and retained the common touch, which is a remarkable achievement.
The attacking skills he has recently developed as a bowler were clear on Monday. Warne's wicket was the second time he had muscled England back into game. On a flat, old-mattress of a pitch, Flintoff removed three key left-handers with fast, off-stump spells of reverse swing. "Simon Jones is helping all the bowlers on the art of reverse swing," said Vaughan. "Flintoff moves it both ways probably as much as anyone in the game," said Ricky Ponting, "and he does it at 90mph."
With Flintoff bowling round the wicket, Australia's left-handers watched the ball spearing in, tried to preserve their stumps, and then saw late away-swing find the edge. Admitting Flintoff bothered Australia's left-handers, Ponting continued: "We've had two really good wickets to bat on the last two games. And we've just managed to get to 300 and that's not good enough." A former Australia Test player reported that it was Flintoff the Australians were talking about over a post-match beer in the dressing-room.
His skill is complemented by his ability to fire up the crowd. On Monday that nearly won England a Test match. "We dominated all aspects," said Michael Vaughan, "I don't think we lost a session."
England were denied ultimate triumph by two legends of the game: the Manchester weather and Warne. His contribution could not measured in his four wickets and 124 runs. He was the glue that held his side together.
On the second morning it was he who shouted at the fielders to back-up in the field or stay alert while the side was falling apart. He provided the arm round the shoulder and the kick up the backside.
And it was Warne's sheer chutzpah which lay behind the blatant time-wasting that helped save Australia the game on the last two days. Batting on Monday he was involved in the most intensive gardening since the demise of Percy Thrower, hoping bad light would bring an early close. No blame attaches to him for trying it on, though some sticks to the umpires for letting him get away with it.
Asked Australia's difficult moments in the field Ponting admitted that at times England's performance left him cluelessly "scratching his head" and that Warne helped him through. He also said Australia never seriously thought of going for victory today, that changes in their batting line-up were unlikely for Trent Bridge and that Jason Gillespie's profligacy with the ball lay behind his lack of bowling in the England second innings.
Australia, Ponting conceded, had "snuck" a draw. But in Flintoff and Warne, the men of the game, two equal and opposite forces had met. A draw seemed just about right.
Plays of the Day from the second ODI between England and India, in Cardiff
Plays of the day from the third ODI between England and India at Trent Bridge
Plays of the day from the tri-series match between Zimbabwe and South Africa
Would he have fared better than the incumbent middle-order batsmen, Root and Ballance?