LONDON - Andrew Flintoff returned to the Lancashire side five years to the day since he last played Test cricket but his efforts weren't quite enough to stop Warwickshire winning English county cricket's Twenty20 Blast final. Flintoff, who had made just two appearances in the competition after coming out of retirement earlier this year, was a late replacement for the injured Kabir Ali after not featuring in Lancashire's semi-final win over Hampshire at Edgbaston earlier in the day.

But the 36-year-old all-rounder, whose international career ended after England's 2005 Ashes series win following a succession of injuries, showed he could still rise to a big occasion. He removed former England team-mate Ian Bell with his first ball, although the dismissal owed much to an excellent catch in the deep by Karl Brown. Warwickshire -- who compete in this competition as Birmingham Bears -- made 181 for five in their 20 overs after easing past a Surrey side featuring Kevin Pietersen (out for 13) in the semi-finals.

Lancashire were struggling at 152 for seven but Flintoff smashed Oliver Hannon-Dalby for two sixes in the 19th over, a typical straight drive followed by a clubbing blow over midwicket. That left his native Lancashire needing 14 off the last over from Chris Woakes, one of Flintoff's successors as England pace-bowling all-rounder. But Flintoff couldn't repeat his heroics and he wasn't on strike when, with six needed off the last ball, Stephen Parry could only manage a single as Warwickshire won by four runs.

"I thought we had it in the bag and then 'Freddie' (Flintoff) hits a couple and all of a sudden it's game on again," said Warwickshire coach Dougie Brown. "Credit to Woakes, he did exceptionally well and it's just amazing to get it over the line. It was a complete rollercoaster of emotions. We've done really well and come on as a side massively in the last two to three years, so to get across the line here on our home ground is incredible."

Woakes, reflecting on Flintoff's contribution, said: "He's still got it hasn't he? There was some good striking at the end there and it's just great to close it out. Your heart is going for the whole 20 overs." Lancashire captain Paul Horton said watching Flintoff, whose unbeaten 20 took just eight balls, made him think an unlikely win was on the cards. "It looked that way at one stage with Freddie whacking them out of the ground, but all credit to Warwickshire," he said.