27 overs 4 maidens 5 wickets for 92 runs. Andrew Flintoff’s first 5 wicket haul at The ‘Home of Cricket’ and only his third in a career spanning 79 Test matches.
Then why was that 5fer in his last innings at Lord’s inevitable? He willed it so.
It was the second Test of the series. In the first, England, against the odds, had hung on to the worst end of a draw. In their first innings at Lord’s, thanks to a mighty 161 from Andrew Strauss they had clocked up a solid 425 – a par score from which the game could take each of its four possible courses. Classic cricket.
Led by Anderson and Onions, with four and three wickets each, England bowled out Australia for 215 and established a grip on the Australian throat. Tightening that grip, Strauss chose not to enforce the follow on and at 4.35 an over each England batsman played his part in taking the lead to 524.
Could Australia match England’s defensive spirit from the first Test? Could Australia rise to the record breaking challenge and on a good wicket execute a morale destroying coup de grace? At 356 – 6, on the final morning, with Michael ‘Dancing Feet’ Clarke 136 not out and Johnson connecting well, for the faint of heart history looked in the making. Yes, yes and then came Flintoff.
But Third Man has taken things too far too quickly. He must reverse the trusty Time Machine 24 hours to the start of the fourth day’s play on Sunday morning the 19th July.
Juddering into the new present (time travel can be nausiating), he finds good company on the top deck of the Pavilion where the ‘live’ question is whether England will declare their second innings at their over night score of 311 with Flintoff not out 30 and Broad not out 0, or will they make Australia field again.
Soon a buzz goes round the ground. “They’ve declared!”
Third Man’s companion says that he is going down to the Long Room to watch the players take the field. In years of slipping in and out of Dark’s, he had never done this before, believing that players deserve their privacy walking to and from the field.
He had once unintentionally passed a hot, sweating and devastated Graham Gooch on the stairs, had see in his eyes the mental exhaustion as the adrenalin that had sustained him left him to the mercy of the deepest fatigue. It had seemed an unforgiveable intrusion just to be walking down stairs in an ‘ordinary walking down stairs way’ when here was the helmeted Ajax returning to within the Walls of Illium after an hour’s battle with Akram.
He remembers, too, Rod Marsh and a member having a serious set too on the concourse in front of the Committee Room window during a long and tedious break for rain. “Mr Marsh, I take great exception to that!” had screamed the member. “You can take what you f**king like, mate,” had replied the Antipodean.
But this is a special occasion and TM so wants to see Flintoff in what he thinks will be the Preston boy’s last Test, so hobbled does he seem from injury upon injury and reliant on pain killing injections to silence the warning pain as more and more irreparable damage is being done.
TM skips down the southern stairs in a stream of excited members making for the Long Room, but he chooses to stand alone on the bottom rung on the first landing outside the England dressing room. One by one the players emerge, led by Strauss. He counts ten of them chatting to each other and going about their business as if it was any other day. But no Flintoff.
Then, out he comes. As silent as the dead. Staring into the middle distance in a trance of concentration, summoning from somewhere within him the power of the will to win. He is set apart, physically and mentally. He alone can and will win this match. He alone has the mental strength to return to his mark time and time again, turn and run in … no matter what the situation, no matter where the game is, no matter what had happened to the previous ball.
As Strauss reaches the bottom of the stairs and, with nine of his team behind him, enters a Long Room packed tight there rises up the stairway such a roar that it shakes the historic foundations of the building and stirs in the trailing Flintoff a special force …
(to be continued.)
AN EXTRA: later that day the Australian captain asked for barriers to be erected to allow his players through the Long Room unmolested and from somewhere in the banqueting suite Mr Bradshaw and his stewards found polished silver posts and a bright blue silk rope. Behind these oddly refined pain barriers, Ponting and his batsmen, one by one, showered in cruel invective, a particularly English mixture of venom and sarcasm, would make their way through that room to the double doors, into the searing light and the vivid green of the field of play.