Andrew Flintoff flopped with the bat and failed to take a wicket but his Lancashire coach, Peter Moores, insisted that he remains on course to resume his talismanic role for England when the Ashes start in Cardiff in less than three weeks.
Flintoff steered Dimitri Mascarenhas to third slip for 12 straight after launching him for a straight six in the 16th over of the match, giving him 15 runs from three innings since his return from his knee operation. But his figures of nought for 16 from seven overs failed to do justice to a probing and increasingly hostile spell from the Mersey end which had all Hampshire's batsmen hopping around. James Vince, a right-hander barely 18 who has already been likened to Michael Vaughan by Duncan Fletcher, showed especially impressive qualities to reach an unbeaten 34.
"Fortunately for Fred he gets two goes at everything, and without taking any wickets he bowled better today than he did at Durham [where he took six wickets last week]," said Moores. "He looked in good rhythm and very strong. He obviously wants a score with the Ashes coming up, because everybody wants to go into that series feeling good about themselves. But he's been playing well in practice. He was just starting to settle, but Mascarenhas produced a pretty good ball."
Flintoff made a surprisingly early appearance at No3 after Lancashire had chosen to bat first, having volunteered to move up the order to fill the gap left by Ashwell Prince's return to South Africa despite scores of 0 and 3 in his comeback match at Durham last week. That meant a tricky test with the ball still new and Mascarenhas and Dominic Cork relishing helpful conditions. But Flintoff coped reasonably comfortably, pushing a leg-side boundary off his hip before advancing down the pitch to launch his 14th ball, from Mascarenhas, over the sightscreen and into the bottom steps of the grand old pavilion. However, when he sought to use his feet again to the next ball, Mascarenhas dug it in a little shorter.
Flintoff still has the second innings here plus England's three-day warm-up game against Warwickshire at Edgbaston the week after next, in addition to any Twenty20 matches for which he is made available, to find the batting confidence on which he has always been so reliant.
But providing Flintoff stays fit enough to bowl like this, his batting will be a bonus. As his then Lancashire captain Stuart Law said with tongue in cheek when he was enduring an even leaner run during his comeback from ankle surgery last season, he would be worth his place for England batting at 11.