| Flintoff’s cameo on Tuesday pleased even Ian Botham
London: When Andrew Flintoff first appeared on the international scene, the English, so prone to premature excesses of optimism, quickly drew comparisons with Ian Botham.
It proved, predictably, an all-round kiss of death.
Flintoff, barely out of his teens, flopped and soon the country’s more popular newspapers were writing off the Lancastrian as a lager-swilling, burger-devouring no-hoper.
They reported in full detail when the allrounder’s weight neared the 18-stone mark to overtake world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis and prompt England coach Duncan Fletcher to issue dire warnings over Flintoff’s future.
That was then.
On Tuesday, the 25-year-old Flintoff produced a display that Botham himself, he of 383 Test wickets and 5,200 runs as well as 145 ODI wickets and 2,113 runs, would have been proud of.
While his bowling was not at its best against South Africa in the triangular series encounter at Edgbaston, Flintoff still managed a wicket with his fifth ball, the not insignificant one of Graeme Smith after an ominously fluent 45 runs from 39 balls.
Flintoff then claimed three catches at the centre of a fine fielding display before carting the South African bowling to all corners as he hit 54 off 40 deliveries, including the one six of the match.
Typically, he got out to Makhaya Ntini going for another hook for six, that after grinning his way through a bombardment from South Africa’s short-fused quick bowler Andre Nel.
It was a real Bothamesque feat early in England’s four-wicket win, however, which really caught the eye.
Standing at third slip and acting as a one-man close-catching cordon, the giant Lancastrian leapt right and threw out a hand instinctively to catch Jacques Kallis off Richard Johnson.
Kallis, with an average of 314 and two centuries from his previous three innings, this time departed for 15. Flintoff the showman puffed out his chest and held his arms aloft for the Edgbaston crowd.
Flintoff’s career statistics, in contrast, deserve little chest puffing and remain well short of what is required from a genuine allrounder.
But the improvement in both batting and seam bowling has been marked in recent seasons. There has even been a Test century, 137, against New Zealand in Christchurch, surely the mark of growing maturity.
Botham, part of the Sky Television commentary team at Edgbaston Tuesday, thinks so.
“I think he’s just coming of age,” he said. “He’s been pushed up the order to No. 5 and responded to that. He’s our key one-day bowler and has a strong arm and magnificent hands.
“He’s had this dreadful tag attached to him, as England’s next great allrounder, but in the end, he’s Andrew Flintoff.
“That’s the person I want to watch. I hope this is the start of ten great years.”