Flintoff hat-trick was conclusive proof he
out-gunned West Indies
England’s Andrew Flintoff poses with the cheque after being named man of the match at the end of the fifth and final One-Day International cricket match against the West Indies at the Beausejour Stadium in Gros Islet, St. Lucia, Friday, April 3, 2009. England defeated West Indies by 26 runs to win the one-day cricket international series 3-2. (AP Photo/Thalia Codrington)
It was almost a steal. England’s first one-day series victory in the West Indies in seven attempts, when they were so out-gunned by the home side’s heavy artillery, demands CCTV footage and a forensic level of scrutiny.
An immediate reaction could be that England came back from 2-1 down to take the series on the back of Andrew Flintoff, once he had recovered from his injured hip. Thus his hat-trick on Friday evening in St Lucia was conclusive proof that he had out-gunned West Indies.
It is a neat explanation. But the facts do not fit. Flintoff scored three runs in his two innings, when runs were urgently needed on both occasions. His hat-trick consisted of Denesh Ramdin and two tailenders when the fifth game had been decided: West Indies, needing 38 from their last three overs on a slow pitch, had blown it by then.
A better explanation is that West Indies were complacent in the knowledge that they had much heavier artillery, which brought them 23 sixes in the series to England’s seven; and their players’ never-ending battles with their board distracted them. Above all, though, England out-witted and out-manoeuvred the home side in a triumph of the will-power of the two Andys, Strauss and Flower.
The key image of the series was not Flintoff saluting the crowd after his hat-trick. Indeed, the key image has never been photographed, and never will be, unless the army allow civilians to use Salisbury Plain.
Firstly, Strauss and Flower as the stand-in coach plotted and planned. They did not have any big hitters, except Kevin Pietersen and Flintoff, who did not fire. They did not have any spinners who could push the ball through. For bowling, they had nothing but right-arm medium to fastish pace. Yet England’s thinktank made the most of what they had.
Strauss then led a raiding party, at dawn, on the enemy’s artillery. Beside him were three main men. One was his vice-captain, Paul Collingwood, as complete a one-day player as England have had, canny in every facet. He never makes the headlines – too much a team man for that – but he is far too easily overlooked, just because he never makes mistakes.
Captain and vice-captain took with them on their raiding party a couple of rottweilers. On their leads, going out for a walk, James Anderson and Stuart Broad are proper little pooches who would not hurt a fly. Let them loose, and they attack the enemy with snarling fangs.
It was a very subtle piece of management to let Anderson and Broad captain the two sides in the pick-up game which England had played among themselves in Georgetown, Guyana, before the one-day series. They both fancied the assignment. Only 26 and 22 respectively, they responded. The axiom that fast bowlers are thick is – often – the biggest mistake in cricket’s mythology. The two of them directed operations like imaginative, hard-nosed Douglas Jardines.
It was Anderson and Broad who spiked the West Indian artillery and enabled England to defend their own modest totals. Anderson dismissed Chris Gayle three times, Broad dismissed him twice. Aside from his gigantic mow in Bridgetown that brought him 80, Gayle scored only another 68 runs in the series. For all his natural superiority as a strokeplayer, he could only watch as Strauss overtook him with 205 runs to 148 and won the Player of the Series award as much for his generalship as his batting.
Anderson and Broad bowled the hardest overs, during the first two Powerplays and the third which the batting side chooses. In the first one-dayer, during the West Indian batting powerplay, Shivnarine Chanderpaul smashed Steve Harmison for 26 in one over: to hell with seniority after that. The two young bucks simply took charge, using their brains, cutters and changes of pace.
The rest of England’s cricket fell into place, once Strauss had found these two penetrative but economical bowlers who really fancied the heat. Flintoff made the perfect third seamer on his return: as the two opening bowlers had taken early wickets, he could just stick to his forte of banging in short-of-a-length heavy balls. Dimitri Mascarenhas is worth his full quota of overs provided the opposition have lost early wickets; if not, he can disappear, as when Gayle hit him for 24 in one over.
Strauss could not mix up his bowling as it was all right-arm much-of-a-muchness, but he mixed up his bowlers by giving them short spells towards the end of an innings, and was always decisive and up with the pace: astonishing considering he had not played a one-day international for two years, and never captained one before. And, to complete his control in the field, he had watertight fielding.
There may have been England fielding sides that have been more spectacular but none so free of unforced errors as this side was in their last two matches. Strauss’s players did not fumble as the pressure intensified. The infielders, Strauss included, made the batsmen think twice about taking a single, the outfielders made them think twice about taking two. England made the utmost of their abilities. And that is all that their supporters can ask.
It is all that coaches can do as well. Organisations tend to appoint people of their own kind. On this occasion, however, the ECB should go for Flower as the best man for the England coaching job. Quiet and self-effacing the two Andys may be, but the last three weeks have proved them to be immensely strong-willed in England’s cause.
© The Telegraph Group, London, 2009