England v Australia, 5th npower Test, The Oval, 4th day August 23, 2009

How two run-outs turned the day

He scored few runs, took one wicket but Andrew Flintoff still put England on course for the Ashes with a rocket-like throw to remove the Australian captain

Can't bat, can't bowl ... can throw. Andrew Flintoff's pain-filled body has weakened his main weapons but his right arm is one of the few major parts that hasn't been operated on and it was his bullet of a direct hit that shot the game back England's way.

Both Flintoff's batting and bowling have clicked only once in his farewell series as he has battled a threatening knee injury. He can still frighten opponents with each discipline, just not all the time, and in this match he has been quiet, living off a well-won reputation in his last game without producing anything special with his usual methods. One side-arm hurl from mid-on changed his impact and ensured a lasting memory.

No, not as the poser who stood arms aloft, mouth opening and closing as he munched on his gum, as soon as the ball left his hand on missile-lock towards the stumps at the striker's end. But as the man who could grab a game with an act of beauty or destruction, depending on your allegiance. It took the third umpire a couple of replays to confirm the dismissal, but when OUT appeared on the scoreboard the ground throbbed.

It wasn't a tailender who had been removed, but Ricky Ponting, the in-form captain who was worrying the home side in the impossible chase. Flintoff has often taken the biggest wickets, including Ponting five times in 15 Tests, but not like this. Around the field he has looked heavy-legged and more like a 50-year-old than the 79-Test veteran aged 31.

For the moment that Michael Hussey pushed Steve Harmison to Flintoff's left at mid-on, the speed of the allrounder's feet didn't matter. He picked up the ball cleanly and flung it back, catching the slow-starting Ponting, who had been called for the run, about five centimetres short. Hussey quickly put a hand on hip in disbelief before staying at the bowler's end while the decision was made. Knowing it was his mistake, his back stayed turned as Ponting walked off at the end of the 127-run swim for safety with Hussey.

At the same time Flintoff was being mobbed. After an insecure opening to his career, Flintoff has grown used to being the centre of attention and it was the last time a ground would cheer spontaneously at his Test brilliance. Flintoff came on to bowl shortly after but did not have any impact, finishing with one wicket for the game and a total of 29 runs.

Six balls after Flintoff's run-out it was Andrew Strauss, a batsman who has had the biggest impact on the direction of the Ashes, who matched his team-mate during another freakish dismissal. Michael Clarke was as unfortunate as Jonathan Trott on the opening day.

Starting against Graeme Swann and not feeling overly comfortable, Clarke went down the pitch to his fourth ball, hitting hard and on to the short leg Alastair Cook's left foot. The rebound went to Strauss, running in from leg slip, and his underarm beat Clarke's return by millimetres. It was frighteningly close even though Billy Bowden didn't call immediately for the replays. They showed a bat on the line and Clarke went the same way as Ponting.

Both the captain and vice-captain had become the tourists' first run-out victims of the series in unrepeatable circumstances. The Australians will consider themselves seriously unlucky but that is generally the feeling of a losing team. The pitch, the umpires, the gods of cricket and the world have been against them at The Oval. Not so for Strauss, Flintoff and their ecstatic followers.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo