England v Australia, 2nd npower Test, Lord's, 5th day July 20, 2009

Flintoff, bloody Flintoff

Four years on from his greatest moments, Andrew Flintoff was at it again with a match-winning performance

Bloody Andrew Flintoff. Bruised, battered, triumphant Andrew Flintoff. One bad leg, another great home Test against Australia. There he is, raising his arms again in his parting-the-waters pose, leading England closer to the Ashes promised land.

Minutes after the match Princess Anne was at the back of the pavilion, policemen clearing her way through the fans, but only a handful stopped to watch her pass. England cricket's royal was on the field, spectators shouting and bouncing at his latest effort to prevent an uprising from the Dominions.

He's a man who, given the condition of his right knee, should be kept to five-over spells. Not interested, his mind says. After his fourth-ball removal of Brad Haddin, who was caught at second slip, he spoke at Andrew Strauss. "Just to let you know I'll keep bowling until all the wickets are gone." He did, taking 3 for 43 in ten overs and toasting himself by lunch. No weak link or cartilage here, just more tormenting of Australia.

Everyone in England has 2005 tattooed on the brain, when England rode on Flintoff's back and the visiting batsmen's feet turned to concrete. The calendar says 2009 but perhaps time has frozen. Once again the Australians are trying to talk like they are still capable of dominating the contest; Flintoff is sitting back, lounging like he's puffing on a cigar. He would be fun to be out with tonight.

No wonder the home supporters don't mention the excessive drinking and disappointment of 2006-07. Why stain his contribution by looking at his failures? Always look on the bright side of life, without the irony.

He started with a fruity Sunday morning sermon to Phillip Hughes and finished with 5 for 92 the following day. Not the worst time for his third five-wicket haul in Tests. Despite the emotion and a twinging, throbbing knee, he is determined to make it to The Oval, bowing out with more industrial-strength noise.

"I'd do anything to get out on the field and finish the series," he said. "I bowled all my overs, I might have been in a bit of discomfort but I've been in discomfort most of my career. It's encouraging I can come in and bowl as many overs as I have done, it bodes well for the last three Tests."

Strauss rated Flintoff in the top three bowlers that opposition batsmen hate to face, due to his "consistent hostility". Ricky Ponting compared the potency of his top-class spells to those from Ambrose, Walsh and Akram, bowlers from an era few modern players can remember. Talk of Flintoff's injury and the possibility of him not making it through the series are not being listened to by the Australians.

"I think it's rubbish," Ponting said. "If Flintoff can bowl like that today I don't think he's in any danger of missing the next Test."

After taking care of both openers on the fourth day, Flintoff ended England's fears of an Australian world record with Haddin's edge. He followed up by bowling Nathan Hauritz and when an inswinger broke Peter Siddle's stumps Flintoff dropped to his knee. Accepting the applause - "I milked the crowd a little bit" - he was swamped by his team-mates who hugged the air from him.

On the Australian balcony there were glum, stubbled faces caused by a familiar foe. "We've always said that when he's up and running and bowling as well as he can he's as good as anyone probably going around," Ponting said. "He gives his all. His spells have not got shorter through the game."

And Flintoff thinks he is becoming faster and smarter, the only thing hampering him being the trailing of strapping tape and pain-killers. "It's quite sad in some ways that I feel I'm getting better as a bowler," he said. "It's just unfortunate I'm having to do what I'm doing with where the body's standing up. I'm learning a bit more about bowling and how to bowl.

"My length is naturally probably a little bit shorter and aggressive. Once you get the batters back, probably the full-length ball is a little bit more threatening. I've got an understanding of what to do, I'm going to have to apply that in the next three games."

He was talking less than an hour after the match but already his name was taped to the bowling honour board, his five wickets earning a spot six years after he made it on the batting list for a century against South Africa. That was "nice", he said, but winning the Ashes means much more. A second grabbing of the tiny urn will be worth a retirement full of limping.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo

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