Flintoff may bowl against West Indies
It should have been the dodo among dead rubbers. On Saturday West Indies, who have already qualified for the semifinals of the Champions Trophy, take on England, who have no chance of qualifying to the next round. The only thing to consider was what position West Indies would qualify in, but now the game, which will be played at the Sardar Patel Gujarat Stadium in Motera has piqued interest, as there's a chance the Andrew Flintoff will bowl for the first time since he suffered an ankle injury.
"There is a possibility, yes," said Flintoff at a pre-match press conference after a practice session, when asked whether he intended to bowl in the forthcoming match. "I have bowled in the nets over the past two weeks or so, and the ankle has responded well to it. I have just done 15-20 minutes, and if I don't react to anything and I am fine, the chances are I will bowl."
Flintoff the bowler has been one of the most imaginative and powerful bowlers in the world in recent times. His deceptively quick deliveries, rearing into the rib-cage have posed problems for all sorts of batsmen, including the Australians. And so, when talk of him returning to bowling does the rounds the excitement is understandable, and perhaps it got to one journalist, who asked if Flintoff would go the whole hog and bowl ten overs if he picked up five wickets in his first few overs. "I have no intentions of bowling my full quota," came the speedy reply, "under any circumstances."
Often, in recent times, you've heard the word pride being bandied about whenever the West Indies come to town. For once, though, it was the opposition who had to think along those lines, as West Indies come into the game with not just solid wins under their belt, but virtually every player in good form. "We know this is a team that can fight back. Against Pakistan in the summer in England, we came back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2," said Flintoff. "So the team does fight and has got lot of character. They also have a lot of pride and we will trying our damndest to win the game, and take a win out of this tournament.
"We obviously want to finish the tournament with a win," Flintoff continued. "We have been beaten twice and we are playing for pride, and pride is a strong thing to play for. We want to win a game of cricket in India. The West Indies may be through and we may be going home, but we still want to put up a good show. We want to perform and want to go home with a win."
When they do go home, though, don't expect the English public to burn effigies of Flintoff and Duncan Fletcher and tar their homes just because they failed completely in a one-day tournament. That sort of thing happens only in India and Pakistan. For most of England, little matters but the Ashes, and naturally, that came up for discussion. "We have got a game against the West Indies, which we are taking as an important game for us in our development," said Flintoff, pausing for a moment at the present before turning his attention back to the future. "Then we will make sure we go home and spend time with our families. Then when we get on the plane [to Australia], then obviously my attention will be focused on Australia."
The talk then shifted from England to West Indies, and inevitably it went to Brian Lara. "He is up there, isn't he? He is a fantastic player. We have been at the wrong end of Lara a couple of times," said Flintoff. "He does things that us mortals can't. When he gets 400 at Antigua, makes me wish I could actually bat like him. He is one of the greats that the game has produced along with the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Steve Waugh and obviously going back to the days gone by. He is someone we respect because he is a fine player."
Who knows, with his back still nowhere near 100% strong, Lara might just choose to sit out the game against England. If he does, it will be a disappointment for the fans, but England won't mind at all. The last time these two teams played each other in a one-dayer, it was in the final of this very tournament, two years ago at The Oval, and in the dying light on a gloomy September evening, the horns of Brixton trilled in unbridled joy as Courtney Brown and Ian Bradshaw steered West Indies to a stunning win. And now here we go again, on a lesser stage, almost certainly without the same ambience, but it's the same two teams, and who knows, we could be in for another cracker.
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo