Flintoff salvages some English pride

 

Cricket/Second Test: South Africa duly won the second Test by a street, just as they had threatened to do since abject England batting gave them the initiative on the first day. But in defeat, by an innings and 92 runs, England salvaged some pride to take forward to the third Test at Trent Bridge beginning on Thursday week.

It came in the form of Andrew Flintoff's second Test century, an innings of immense common sense, restraint in its early part and then, when defeat was imminent, one that flourished into sheer brutality.

No one, not Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd nor even Ian Botham, with whom Flintoff invites inevitable comparison, can have hit the ball harder than he did in making 142 from 146 balls, in a shade under three-and-a-half hours, in the process removing the indignity of his side suffering their worst ever defeat at Lord's.

It was the highest score made by a number seven batsman on the ground, surpassing Les Ames's 137 against New Zealand 72 years ago. Before he was stumped down the legside by Mark Boucher to bring the match to a conclusion, there had been 18 fours from him, most struck with such power that halfway through his bat could take no more and, as he drove violently at Makhaya Ntini, it split asunder to be held aloft in a giant wooden V-sign.

There was more, though. Five sixes soared into the azure sky as Ntini was pulled without mercy, and Shaun Pollock, a byword for parsimony throughout his illustrious career, was belted unceremoniously back over his head, conceding 20 runs in one uproarious over.

The Lancashire all-rounder received determined support towards the end from unlikely sources in Steve Harmison, who hung around to see him to his hundred, and then James Anderson.

His innings served to resurrect a fourth day that had appeared to be drifting to an early conclusion when three top-order wickets, Nasser Hussain, Alec Stewart for a second-ball duck and Anthony McGrath, fell in seven balls to Ntini and Pollock - at no cost - either side of lunch, leaving England floundering at 208 for six.

While Mark Butcher and Hussain were constructing a third-wicket stand of 126 during the morning there remained the hope that the match could be taken into the final day. But, having made 70, Butcher chipped to midwicket and shortly afterwards Hussain, his 61 a more measured effort yesterday, pulled frenetically and top-edged a catch to the wicketkeeper.

In a match that produced more records than the late Sam Phillips, it was Ntini who can now claim the one that will be seen as having the greatest impact on future generations of South African cricketers. People remember pioneers, and in taking five for 145 in the second innings, to go with the five for 75 he claimed on Thursday, he is the first South African to take 10 in a Test at Lord's.

Yesterday was no time for recriminations in the England dressing-room, besides which Flintoff had given them heart. After back-to-back Tests there is time to regroup. It has been a chastening experience for Michael Vaughan, who discovered through the harshest of lessons how quickly fortunes can turn. After the escape at Edgbaston, and the nature of it, the selectors kept faith with the side, handing a direct legacy from Hussain to Vaughan.