Andrew Flintoff worked Ricky Ponting over at Edgbaston, in the 2005 Ashes

Andrew Flintoff: the hero England deserved and needed in 2005

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The balls of the century, No. 9: Andrew Flintoff to Ricky Ponting

An allrounder in his prime against a world-class batsman under pressure to protect his team's No. 1 status

Andrew Miller  |  

England v Australia, Edgbaston, 2005

Crikey. Where do you start with this one? No, really, where do you start? Because there are balls of the century - isolated eruptions of genius that make up in eye candy what they may lack in context - and balls of the century: deliveries of such otherworldly significance that they end up defining epochs… and who cares if, on reflection, they were filthy last-ditch long hops, so long as they were delivered in the right place, at the right time.

But this ball from Andrew Flintoff, to that batsman, Ricky Ponting, at this moment of the Test match, and at that juncture of the series. However you break it down, it was massive. And, in fact, the less you try to treat it as an event in its own right - fast, furious and reverse-reverse-swinging though it was - the more immense it becomes.

To all intents and purposes, the delivery in question had actually begun some two hours earlier, in the frantic final throes of England's second innings. For by the time he was thrown the ball by Michael Vaughan, Flintoff was, by his own admission, still buzzing after an adrenaline rush of a performance - 73 of the most cleanly smoked runs imaginable, transforming a desperate lunchtime scoreline of 95 for 6, with Shane Warne at his most beguiling, to a defendable target of 282.

Or perhaps the delivery had begun earlier still, with the dawning of Flintoff's full potential as a fast bowler. By the start of 2005, he'd evolved from the chubby wannabee who had previously lacked the fitness to live up to his potential, and was all of a sudden a bona fide beefcake, an extraordinarily powerful lummox of a cricketer. His bowling seemed to have grown muscles overnight, as he learned to tame his previously windmilling limbs and become a model of channelled aggression - straight back, thundering shoulders, savage intent.

In short, he was ready. And so too was an Edgbaston crowd that was just beginning to sense that a new champion was emerging before their eyes but were also rather anxious to be proven right at the earliest opportunity. For Australia were not taking this challenge to their hegemony lying down. Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden were ominously well set in an opening stand of 47 in 12 overs, and the stage was set for the most hostile takeover of the year.

With his second delivery, from round the wicket, Flintoff prised an opening through brute strength, ramming a length ball through Langer's gloves and torso and onto his stumps to book his date with destiny. Ponting, still sporting the duelling scar from his encounter with Steve Harmison at Lord's, emerged with quick feet and cocked wrists, and needed every fibre of his mettle to survive his first delivery, a searing, surging inswinger that snaked for his pads but struck him on the move outside off.

The battle was well and truly joined now as Flintoff served up another venomous delivery in the channel outside off, fenced on the bounce to Ashley Giles in the gully as the crowd roared its approval and shuffled ever forward in their seats. Flintoff's fifth of the over was even better, a massive nip-backer, eluding Ponting's inside edge as it shaped to miss leg stump. Once again he was beaten, but once again on his own terms. His determination not to be caught on the crease was undoubtedly helping umpire Billy Bowden in his decision-making too.

The sixth was too wide and allowed Ponting a rare breather as he hopped across to off once again and left well alone, but it was also the mostly timely no-ball of Flintoff's career. An over that could not be over quickly enough for his quarry had just been extended by one more ball. "That won't be a problem as far as Flintoff's concerned," noted Mark Nicholas on Channel 4's commentary. He knew…

And so, in his 49th Test and in his seventh year as an England cricketer, in his defining moment as an emerging allrounder, and in his team's most urgent hour of need, Flintoff summoned up a knockout blow so sublime, it's hard to say how many Pontings in how many parallel universes are still being confounded by his mind-bending action on the ball.

A flip of the shiny side and a banshee of an outswinger, shaping in wickedly to challenge the off stump and draw the defensive drive, before accelerating through the bend like an escapee from Silverstone to kiss the edge goodbye. Flintoff flung out his arms in triumph as his team-mates mobbed him as one, his coronation complete even if the match itself had more than a few twists to come.

As for Ponting, he's never been one to get too effusive about the most painful defeat of his career. But even he was moved to join the applause when the moment was retweeted on the 15th anniversary of the match early last month.

"Best over I ever faced. Class reverse swing at 90-odd mph!" he stated. And that, frankly, is where you finish.

The balls of the century

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @miller_cricket

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