Andrew Flintoff made a compelling return to the big stage but it was not enough to carry Lancashire to a fairytale victory in the NatWest T20 Blast final as Birmingham Bears claimed a dramatic four-run victory at Edgbaston.
Flintoff, who has played just twice since his comeback from retirement and has been filming a documentary about fish and chips in recent weeks, was destined for a watching brief until being called up as a late replacement for the injured Kabir Ali – and the 36-year-old was close to a dream ending.
He removed former Test team-mate Ian Bell with his first ball – celebrating with his familiar arms outstretched pose – and returned at the 11th hour to take his side to within touching distance with two muscular sixes in the penultimate over.
He appeared on the cusp of a match-winning intervention but with 14 still needed from the last six balls Chris Woakes sent down a superb over to make sure his team won the competition for the first time.
The silverware belonged to Birmingham – Warwickshire’s short-form alter-ego – after they knocked off Kevin Pietersen’s Surrey in the semi-final then held off a Lancashire side who took what would have been a record chase in the final to the last ball.
Laurie Evans was a key performer, guiding his side to an imposing 181 for five with a fine 53, while Woakes, Boyd Rankin and Oliver Hannon-Dalby all turned in admirable showings with the ball.
But the defining image of the day is sure to involve Flintoff, appearing exactly five years since last pulling on an England shirt and long after a career of panel shows and reality television appeared to have taken him out for good.
His mark will certainly live longer in the memory than Pietersen’s, England’s prodigal son coming and going almost without notice.
As it was, Flintoff finished stranded on 20 from eight balls, including two mighty blows off Hannon-Dalby, as Stephen Parry tried and failed to hit the final ball of the game for a match-winning six.
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