India v England, 3rd Test, Mumbai, 5th day March 22, 2006

'This is up there with the Ashes' - Flintoff

Andrew Flintoff sinks to his knees at the moment of victory © AFP

This England team may have lacked experience, but their indomitable will carried them to a resounding 212-run victory in the third and final Test, a win that is destined to be remembered as one of their finest in the subcontinent.

Afterwards, Andrew Flintoff, who showed the way with an immense personal contribution to the series - 254 runs at 52.8 and 11 wickets at 30.54 - puts things into perspective when he said that "it ranks right up there" with the Ashes triumph over Australia in September. "Last summer was huge," he said. "But to come out here with the problems we had leading up to the series, and to lose Steve Harmison here...

"The young lads making their debuts and those that have played a handful of matches, with us being one behind, we required one last push. The manner in which we played here was fantastic, and I think this is the first time England have won a Test match in India for more than 20 years."

India needed 295 runs with nine wickets in hand when play resumed on the final day, and Flintoff said that he had been quietly confident of success. "I thought we were in a great position. Having batted yesterday and scratched around for more than three hours, I knew it wasn't easy batting out there. India needed the best part of 300 runs, and with the ball spinning and bouncing and the surface wearing, I though the percentages were in our favour."

Having said that, not even he could have been prepared for the abysmal surrender post-lunch. "I must admit I thought we would be scrapping it out at the end of the day, we would be fighting it out at the end," he said. "We knew that Rahul [Dravid] doesn't give his wicket away, and while Rahul and Sachin [Tendulkar] were together, anything was possible. But once we got two wickets in two overs after lunch, and especially with the way Shaun Udal was bowling with the ball bouncing and turning, we knew we were on top."

Flintoff laps up the acclaim of the crowd © AFP

According to Flintoff, Mahendra Singh Dhoni's suicidal charge at Udal was just as pivotal, a signal to the dressing-room that the champagne and beer could be put on ice. "It was always going to be difficult once Dhoni was dismissed because they had only the bowlers to come. We were also lucky to have got [Anil] Kumble early because he has been a thorn in our side. He is a tricky batsman to bowl to."

The emphatic victory was nothing less than England deserved, and Flintoff said as much. India's nine-wicket win in Mohali had flattered them, and according to Flintoff, "We spoke about it, we saw what went on in Mohali and realised that we were not that far away. We were so close, and it was just a matter of scoring a few more runs. The bowlers were magnificent, and Straussy was fantastic. We needed one of our top-order batsmen to go on and make a big score, and we knew that if we had a good first-innings score here, we had a great chance."

Flintoff was reluctant to criticise Dravid's decision to field, but admitted that he was as puzzled as anyone when asked to bat. "I would have batted first if we won the toss, but I have no local knowledge," he said diplomatically. "For me to say I will bowl on winning the toss, the grass will have to be knee-deep. I was pleased to bat first, that was our game-plan."

With two 50s in the match, Flintoff did as much as anyone to set up the win, and four years on from his nightmare with the bat on the last tour, he was a content man. "The one thing I wanted to do in India was score runs," he said. "The last time I came here, I made 27 runs [actually 26] in three Tests, so there were question marks over my head as regards playing in the subcontinent and playing spin.

"I worked very hard with Neil Fairbrother back in England, and with Duncan Fletcher and Matthew Maynard after coming here. I have been refining my game against spin. It's disappointing that I didn't go on to make a hundred, it would have been nice to go on, but I have improved as a batter and the bowling is taking care of itself. Maybe the added responsibility has helped as well."

Shaun Udal and his captain in the England dressing-room © AFP

Flintoff was originally supposed to skip the Mumbai Test so that he could be with his wife, Rachel, when their second child was born, but Michael Vaughan's knee injury scuppered those plans. "To stay back and lead the side was what I wanted to do, and it's what Rachel wanted me to do as well," he said. "Of course winning makes it worth it because you may not get the chance to captain the country again."

While many questions focused on his role in the victory, Flintoff was anxious not to deflect attention away from the team that had done him proud. "I couldn't have asked for anything more," he said. "With guys going back and stuff, Alastair Cook made his debut, Monty Panesar and Owais Shah made their debuts, and though Shaun Udal is 37, he has only played a handful of Tests.

"It shows that English cricket is strong and that young players are coming through and there is a lot of talent. Every lad that came in fitted into the side, contributed on and off the field. The character of the side has been fantastic, and the lads can be very proud of what they have done in the last three weeks."

Flintoff was insistent, however, that he was merely keeping the captain's chair warm for Vaughan. "As soon as he is fit, he is the captain. I have had a taste of it and I have enjoyed it, but I have enjoyed playing under Vaughany. This is very much his side, and not just me but everyone in the team is looking forward to him coming back."

If there was a sour note, it was provided by a crowd that jeered Tendulkar on Sunday, and then heckled Dravid at the presentation ceremony. "It was a strange one from the crowd," said Flintoff, not bothering to hide his disappointment. "Of course, there were a lot of English folk too in the crowd. But there were sections that were on our backs, calling us names and stuff, and you don't want to see that. Rahul is a fantastic player and a fantastic captain, and he doesn't deserve to be booed. Hopefully, we won't see it happen to us."

If he keeps playing like this, that's highly unlikely.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo