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Flintoff slams century

By Ted Corbett

BRISTOL, JULY 4. Andrew Fintoff, 6ft 4in, a slimmed down 16st, is the Jolly Blue Giant of the England team. His presence makes his teammates feel happier, his arrival at the batting or the bowling crease brings a broad grin on every spectator's face and when he hits, wow, that causes as much laughter as cheering. "Ah," the crowd seems to say, "Freddie's here. England will be all right now."

Flintoff is not fully fit so he arrived at the crease today for England's important game against New Zealand when it was 57 for three in the 17th over in his new role as a specialist batsman and, to be frank about it, the packed crowd, in their raincoats lest another shower arrive, were sorely in need of a laugh.

Marcus Trescothick had been dropped by the wicketkeeper and run out going for a dodgy second off the same ball. Michael Vaughan, the England captain, had played some of his most dashing shots but still gone for 12 out of 35 and Robert Key, in the form of his life according to his admirers, been caught off Scott Styris' first ball for 18.

Same old tale, we thought. The other side wins the toss, sticks England in and after 40 or so overs of strain cannot set a score that will put, well, Bangladesh, under pressure. Then Freddie, the Flintstone man, arrived, swinging the toothpick he uses for a bat and we knew everything was going to work out. And we were right although on the way he had a couple of misadventures.

Off his fifth ball he was dropped by Hamish Marshall, the second mistake by that excellent fielder who had already put down Andrew Strauss in the gully. No one thought it might be the background until Flintoff, 25, with superb eyesight, was hit on the head by a bouncer from Butler. He simply asked for a new helmet and carried on swinging — "with me head buzzing" — but he might also have been given out caught behind. Television evidence detected an edge but umpire Daryl Harper was not convinced. Perhaps he likes watching the Flintoff flail at work too.

How well it worked is told in the figures but more properly in the way each massive shot — eleven 4s and two 6s — was greeted by the 15,000 spectators shoe-horned into the County Ground, the home a century ago of Gilbert `The Croucher' Jessop, another mighty hitter.

Watchers at other grounds in this NatWest tournament have been subdued; today they played every ball with Flintoff, willed him to hit harder, longer, more often. He and Strauss, in his free-scoring mode, put on 122 in 25 overs, Flintoff made his highest score, his first one-day international century and put on the longest celebration I can remember from any batsman. "It was a special moment," he said. "I desperately wanted a one-day century. It was the one thing that was missing."

New Zealand began intending to play in the cautious way that was so successful 24 hours ago against West Indies and aiming for a total of 238 — a par score in England — that promised a victory that would seal its place in the final at Lord's on Saturday.

Nathan Astle got the Kiwis going with a square cut 4 off Steve Harmison and by the end of the fourth over 20 had been scored. There was little in this pitch even for the ball delivered from Harmison's height but Gough, eight inches shorter, beat both batsmen and then raced 20 yards round the boundary to cut off a 4. Sajid Mahmood, making his debut, also cut off a boundary. It was all part of the Flintoff factor.

Flintoff's innings set up England for its first victory after producing a total since Vaughan took over from Nasser Hussain last summer. No one will need telling that Fleming won the toss and put England in. The modern one-day captain who says, "I'll have a bat" would be wheeled away to an asylum. Odd, is it not, that this is the ground where W.G. Grace gained the tactical knowledge that led him to say: "If you win the toss, always think about putting the opposition in, but always bat."

How the old game changes.

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