How Good Is Ben Stokes? Let The Botham / Flintoff Comparisons Begin

I’m going to start by making an uncontroversial assertion. Ben Stokes is England’s best known cricketer of his generation. In fact, you’ve probably heard of Ben Stokes even if you don’t like cricket. That’s partly because of Bristol, of course, but it’s also because the 2019 Wisden Cricketer Of The Year makes sensational cricketing headlines too.

Stokes was the star of England’s World Cup final victory (shown on terrestrial TV), the star of England’s remarkable Ashes win at Headingley last summer, and he’s the reigning BBC Sports Personality Of The Year too.

And he deserves all the plaudits he gets. Stokes is no overrated show pony like some of our footballers are.

In this day and age, where cricket has been hidden behind a paywall for nearly 15 years, it’s extremely rare for cricketers to gain broader public recognition. I’d wager relatively few people outside the cricketing bubble have heard of Alastair Cook for example.

The sad truth is that cricket just isn’t on the public radar like it used to be. In fact, if you asked Brenda from Bristol to name three cricketers, she’d probably say Ian Botham, Freddie Flintoff (“from Top Gear”), and David Gower (“the bloke from They Think It’s All Over”).

So how has Stokes transcended the normal drawbacks cricketers face? How come Stokes is, you know, ‘news’? It’s because he’s very, very good. And like Botham and Flintoff he’s a headline writer’s dream. Although, having said that, he was unable to inspire a decent headline for this particular article. Like the aforementioned Sir Alastair, I played it with a straight bat today.

Normally when I write articles like this I end up concluding that such and such a cricketer is overrated (particularly very modern players). I’ll argue they aren’t a patch on players from years gone by. After all, it’s natural to get a tad wistful when remembering one’s heroes from yesteryear.

However, in Stokes’s case I can’t. He’s too box office. Yes his statistics could be a little better but cricket isn’t just about averages. It’s about when you score your runs and take your wickets. It’s about performing when the stage is biggest and the lights are brightest. And Stokes does this regularly.

England’s vice captain is a match winner. And he’s a match winner in all departments – batting, bowling, and fielding. This makes him a true all rounder in every sense of the word – a player capable of turning a game in multiple ways.

The fact he’s also a somewhat flawed personality, with a fiery temperament, also makes him incredibly interesting. He captivates unlike any England cricketer since Botham.

That’s why today I’m going compare Stokes with Botham himself, plus the aforementioned Flintoff. Which one was best? And if we can’t decide for sure then at least the journey should be interesting.

Although I probably missed Botham’s peak (I started watching cricket in the mid-80s) I’ve seen highlights of his signature performances many times. I also followed his later career very closely. I was a junior member at Worcs when Beefy signed for us, so I saw him live on many occasions; therefore I’m in a reasonable position to judge.

At his best (and slimmest!), Beefy was probably the best bowler of the three. He could be surprisingly slippery, swung the ball prodigiously, and managed to take wickets through sheer force of personality. The fact he picked up so many wickets as a medium pacer towards the end of his career also speaks volumes. He was a crafty so and so. People don’t give him enough credit for that in my opinion.

Beefy’s batting, however, wasn’t quite as strong. Yes he could be brilliant on his day but he wasn’t a technician and wasn’t particularly consistent either. He only averaged over 40 in a calendar year once (in 1982) despite playing for England for fourteen years.

Sir Ian finished up with a career Test average of 33.5 which isn’t bad for an all-rounder but isn’t particularly inspired either – especially as his numbers were inflated by a remarkable record against India. What’s more, despite his legendary Ashes heroics, he actually ended up averaging under 30 against the Aussies. I bet you didn’t know that. I didn’t until recently.

Botham also struggled mightily against the West Indies, averaging just 21 with the bat in twenty Tests against them. There’s no shame in struggling against one of the best attacks of all time, of course, but one could also argue that true greats manage to raise their game against the very best. In Botham’s case, this simply didn’t happen – at least not with the willow.

When it comes to Flintoff, I’ve ultimately come to see him as a lesser version of his Beefiness. Freddie was a terrific bowler (when fully fit) and he troubled some of the best batsmen of all time – just ask Ricky Ponting. It wasn’t just the 2005 Aussies either. Fred also had a good record in South Africa and India.

The caveat is obviously that Flintoff never picked up the sheer volume of wickets he deserved. My eyes always told me that he was one of the finest fast bowlers I’ve seen in England colours. But his Test average of 33 tells a different story. In fact, he only averaged under 30 against one major Test nation – the ‘mediocre’ West Indies.

I can’t put my finger on why Freddie struggled to take wickets (despite making so many high class batsmen struggle). Did you know that he only took three 5-fers in his 79 Tests and didn’t take ten wickets in a match once? Even his first class bowling career wasn’t anything to get excited about.

All I can say is that Flintoff seemed to go past the outside edge without inducing a nick more than any other bowler I can remember. Normally this happens to bowlers who don’t pitch the ball up enough but I can’t recall Freddie being a particular culprit in this regard. It’s a mystery. I don’t know what to say.

When it came to batting then Flintoff was very much a Botham clone. He was a fine player when ‘grooved’ (the term Freddie frequently used himself) but there was little consistency and more than the occasional agricultural heave. He was almost looked like a club batsman.

Despite playing some extremely fine innings (who can forget Trent Bridge and Edgbaston in 2005) Fred probably underachieved overall. All the talent was there but something was missing. Rather than maturing as a batsman as he gained more experience his record actually fell away over the years. In fact, he averaged well under 30 in his last four years of Test cricket. Strange.

Although an overall Test average of 32 is reasonable for an all-rounder, I must confess that I rarely had much faith in Freddie. I always watched him in hope rather than expectation. Why? Because I’m not sure he had the mind (or approach) of a top flight batsman. Consequently, I always felt more comfortable with him at No.7 rather than No.6. It’s a small but significant distinction.

Where Stokes differs from the other two is that he’s a better batsman than bowler. He’s a technician with the game to bat anywhere from 3-6. There are no obvious weaknesses in his technique. If I was a bowler – i.e. twenty years younger, fitter, and slightly less lazy – then I wouldn’t know where to bowl at him. I’d probably just bowl at off stump and hope for the best.

Stokes the batsman is solid in defence, fantastic on the drive, sound off his legs, and pugnacious off the back foot. He cuts brilliantly, pulls with brutality, and plays all around the wicket. His only fault – and I’m really nitpicking here – is that he occasionally gets himself out by playing too aggressively (or loosely). However, it’s hard to pin this criticism on a player who’s also very capable of knuckling down, eating up deliveries, and playing the match situation.

Unlike Botham and Flintoff, Stokes also raises his game against the best opponents. I still think his maiden Test century at Perth was one of the best innings I’ve seen. It came against what was a ferocious attack that dominated every other player in that series. You could just tell that the young Stokes was something special. Stokes is also amazing at rising to an occasion. He’s almost like a 1win voucher code for cricket betting. His team can’t lose if he’s is still at the crease, no matter how desperate the scoreboard looks. He can always pull something out of the bag.

When analysing Stokes’s record you’ll see that he averages a healthy 38 against the Aussies, 43 against Southee and Boult’s New Zealand, and 48 against the Saffers. He could do with improving his record against India and Sri Lanka a smidge but I’m sure this will come.

What’s more, I’m absolutely confident that Stokes the cricketer is still trending upwards. He’s maturing nicely. Ben has averaged 50+ over his last 11 Tests (talking his career average to a respectable 37) and I have no doubts that he’ll reach the 40 benchmark by the end of his career – especially if he bowls less and less.

And that’s the crucial distinction here. Whereas Beefy and Freddie weren’t consistently worth their place in the side as batsmen alone, I’d happily pick Stokes as a frontline batter even if he couldn’t bowl. His bowling is almost a bonus. But it’s more than that, of course …

Stokes the bowler is infrequently called upon to deliver match winning spells these days – that’s the luxury of a five-man attack – but when he’s needed he usually delivers. He can bowl quickly; he can keep it tight; he can generate some reverse swing; he can pitch it up and invite the drive; plus he can pin the batsman back in his crease by hitting the pitch hard. Overall, there’s not a lot he can’t do with the ball. He’s also a bit of a golden arm like Beefy. If only Flintoff had enjoyed half their luck.

Although injuries are obviously a bit of a problem for Stokes, I still think he’s worth his place in the side as a bowler alone. Some might question whether he’s one of the four best seamers in the country, but I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to argue that he is. He just doesn’t have to show it all that often. And England are obviously keen to minimise his workload.

For me this is one area where England’s latest greatest all-rounder might possibly have the edge over Sir Ian and Freddie. He’s genuinely worth his place in the side for both batting and bowling. Yes there were times when Botham and Flintoff were legitimate No.6 batsmen but when were they ever considered more than that i.e. did anyone ever suggest they should bat higher than 6 with regularity?

Stokes currently bats at 5 and many shrewd judges, including Geoff Boycott, have argued that he has the best technique in the side. High praise indeed. Beefy was occasionally shoved up the order but was never a long term higher up.

Although I’m not ready to declare Stokes as better than Botham – I’d have people of a certain generation after me for starters – I do think it’s a legitimate question to ask. After all, Stokes’s batting average of 37 and bowling average of 33 compares pretty favourably with Botham’s 34 and 28.

It’s worth pointing out that Stokes has rarely had the opportunity to bowl with the new ball. He’s usually tossed a dog eaten cherry that’s fifty overs old and asked to break a partnership with well set batsmen at the crease. If there’s much movement in the air or off the pitch then Anderson and Broad usually clear up and Stokes doesn’t get a look in.

When it comes to Flintoff, however, I do think I’m ready to declare Stokes the better. This is nothing personal against Flintoff, of course, it’s simply a matter of  production. Stokes’s averages of 37 and 33 clearly represent a better return than Flintoff’s averages of 32 with the bat and 33 with the ball. Indeed, if one accepts that the mark of a top class all-rounder is one who averages more with the bat than they do with the ball, then Freddie sadly doesn’t qualify.

So we come back to the original question in this ever expanding article. How good is Ben Stokes? Pretty bloody good I’d say. He’s the only cricketer discussed above with an acceptable record in both departments. His weaker suit (bowling) would be just about good enough to keep him in the side, whereas any specialist batsman averaging Botham’s 33 or Flintoff’s 32 wouldn’t last for too long (unless their name was Jos Buttler, wink, wink).

Can Stokes ultimately surpass Sir Ian as England’s greatest ever all-rounder? It’s possible. Botham’s supporters will argue that their man possibly played too long and his career averages don’t reflect what a phenomenon he was in his pomp, but we don’t yet know what Stokes might become.

The end of the Ben Stokes story has yet to be written. It’s possible (albeit unlikely) that his form could fall away. He might repeat his Headingley heroics several times over. Or he might even suffer the a career ending injury like Flintoff. We just don’t know.

What’s more – and again this takes us full circle – who knows what future controversies are written in fiery Ben’s stars. We keep hearing that he’s matured (and I’m sure he has in many ways) but would it really surprise you if he got into an altercation in England’s next Test, ended up in a fight, got sacked on the spot, and subsequently joined the priesthood as a means of atonement?

I wouldn’t be shocked at all. Well, maybe the the bit about the clergy. Ben in the doghouse? Yes. Ben in a dog collar? Not gonna happen.

James Morgan


  • Stokes’ greatness is unquestionable by now. Flintoff had 2-3 sensational years (2004-6, excluding the Aussie tour at the end of 2006) and sporadic moments afterwards, but has career got off to a slow start. Botham was sensational in the early part of his career barring his interlude as captain, 139 wickets in his first 24 test matches and already six hundreds by then, and then after 12 disappointing games as skipper a dream sequence against the 1981 Aussies. After that golden period, although he had moments as late as the 1986-7 Ashes his major contributions were more sporadic. At the moment I place Stokes ahead of Freddie, and behind Beefy, but that assessment is certainly open to revision in Stokes’ favour if he continues to progress.

  • Peak Botham was an outstanding player. Shame about some pretty horrific injuries, especially at the time when rehabilitation and care wasn’t as good.

    I’m going to cop out and say let’s judge Stokes at the end of his career. I’ll be bold and say Flintoff is the 3rd best of the 3

  • No question that Stokes is the best batsman of the three. I am also puzzled why Flintoff didn’t get the wickets he deserved – he bowled accuratley and fast – he was often England’s quickest bowler, even when Harmison was playing (Beefy for a while was England’s quickest bowler too, though less successful than as a swing bowler).
    Very difficult call. All three could change a game single-handed. Botham 1981, Flintoff 2005, Stokes 2019? I would rate Botham’s influence as being the greatest – after all, we didn’t win the 2019 series.

    • Flintoff bowled a tad too short (common English trend) and generally only angled deliveries in to right handers. Consequently, his pace made him difficult to get away, but batsmen could cover defensively fairly comfortably. He also lacked sufficient variation in my opinion.

  • Stokes isn’t quite the bowler that Botham was in his early years, but still a proper international bowler. His batting is really in a different class to the other two. Where he really comes to the top of any list of all rounders (even including Sobers, Kallis, Miller) is his sheer force of character, and his insistence on turning lost matches into wins. The grittiness, as well as the virtuosity, of his innings at Leeds last year will never be equalled. It wasn’t a lark, like Botham’s great innings in 1981, but a demonstration.

    • Sorry, are you really suggesting Stokes character is stronger than Miller’s? The man who when asked about pressure in cricket replied “Pressure is a Messerschmidt up your arse, playing cricket is not.”

    • ‘Character’ .. is that what we call out and out aggression now ??

  • Stokes has his moments as a bowler, but isn’t at all consistent. Perhaps I should just say Carlos Brathwaite?

    • Yes I did think of that T20 final but this is really about Test cricket. I can’t remember too many times that he’s been taken to the cleaners. And he’s often turned a Test with an inspired spell on an otherwise dull day.

  • A few quick thoughts:

    –Stokes and Botham are in a completely different league to Flintoff, who’s probably one of the most overrated cricketers of my lifetime. As Thomas suggests, he was an OK test cricketer who had two (arguably three) very good years–but that doesn’t make him anywhere near England’s best all-rounder any more than it makes Steve Harmison one of England’s greatest fast bowlers.

    –Flintoff absolutely wasn’t unlucky as a bowler. You’ve actually nailed it without realising it: he simply bowled much too short much too often.

    –I don’t think you’re comparing like with like with Stokes’s and Botham’s batting average. Batting averages generally have been higher in the last decade than the 1980s–and the 1980s West Indian attack was of a completely different level of intensity than Stokes will ever have faced (and yes that includes the 2013-14 Ashes! Imagine having two similarly fearsome bowlers to replace Johnson and Harris when they came off…)

    Botham was absolutely worth his place in either discipline up till the middle of his career: till the end of the 1985 season he averaged 36, and only five other players in that period played 25 Tests for England and averaged more (and only another two averaged more than 26). This is even more true given that he was a game-changing batsman.

    –you’ve probably put your finger on something with the idea that Stokes may well overtake Botham given time: the second half of Botham’s career was dire. From 1977 till 1985 his batting average was 36 and his bowling 26 (so +10 in the all-rounder measurement); after that it was 24 and 46, or -22, and he scored one century and took two five-fors in 23 Tests. I can’t see the same thing happening to Stokes, who’s at about the same stage of his career: especially after Bristol, he seems driven in a way that is fairly much the opposite of late-career Botham.

    You may be unwilling to offend cricket-lovers of a certain generation with questioning the Botham supremacy, but I will! WAS he England’s greatest all-rounder? Quite possibly so, but he succeeded another one with a much superior record who’s wildly underrated in my opinion: Tony Greig. Maybe you should be comparing Stokes to Greig too….

    • You cannot be serious about Greig. Not worth his place either as bowler or batsman (or captain, for that matter).

      • Someone with a career average over 40 not worth his place as a batsman? What an idiotic statement. He also did very well in 2 of the three series he captained – and nobody stood much of a chance against the 1976 West Indies.

        • I agree that Flintoff is clearly in third place; that Stokes is the best batsman, Botham the best bowler; and that Botham’s later career spoiled otherwise impressive averages. Very difficult to choose between Botham and Stokes. Nobody has mentioned catching and fielding!

        • Again, let’s look at the comparative records. Only four England batsmen during Greig’s career played 15 Tests and averaged more than him (of whom three were openers)–and only another three averaged more than 16.

          Discounting Bob Woolmer’s four wickets at 75, only six bowlers at all played 15 Tests and took a wicket. Greig took 30% more (and bowled getting on for 40% more overs) than any of the other five except Underwood.

          Given that he was captain for all of 14 of his 58 Tests, this can’t be put down primarily to the fact that he played a lot because he was captain.

  • A point about Flintoff – he really had two careers, pre- and post-2004. His record pre-2004 was so poor it masks how good he became thereafter until injury ground him down. His bowling average was around 40 in 2004. He was played in too many Tests early in his career and was misused as a stock bowler. It’s also worth pointing out that his small number of 5-fors has much to do with England playing a five man attack when he was at his best (and a high quality one) – there are fewer chances for large individual hauls when the team has more bowlers.

    I’d also point out that comparing stats of a player in mid-career and those of players who’ve retired can be misleading. Players’ stats often decline in their later years, it is after all why they retire. Botham’s bowling average when he was Stokes’ current age must have been in the low 20s.

    One thing I’d point out about Flintoff and Botham is how much they bowled, especially when the going got tough overseas. Stokes hasn’t been bowling much abroad in recent years and that would exclude him playing as a specialist bowler.

    • Think it also needs to be pointed out that Botham played 300 non-Test FC games. Which obviously will have adversely impacted on him and his health as well. It may well have been a massively contributing factor to a poorer second half of his Test career.Even as Jimmy Anderson is approaching 40, he has not even breached the 100 non-Test FC games mark. Obviously easier to stay fit if you are not butchered on a daily basis.

      Which is why it is massively favouring current players compared to players who played before central contracts were a thing.

  • Stokes is a work in progress and to compare him to previous players of his ilk who have finished their careers is unfair. Hence the anti-Stokes brigade are able to concentrate on his moderate stats.
    What is clear is that he has the big match temperament and is already a better technical batsman than either Botham or Flintoff, neither of whom would be included as a specialist batsman, which has happened already with Stokes when injury prevented him bowling. What is equally clear is that he is not yet the calibre of bowler of the other 2.
    I was lucky enough to see Botham in his pomp and the intimidatory atmosphere his sheer force of personality generated, especially as a bowler, was like nothing I have experienced from an England player. His batting, although often brutal was always giving the opposition a chance and as a punter I never felt his innings would last that long, rather like Flintoff. Stokes has yet to generate that presence, even after his exploits last summer. However there’s plenty of time for him to improve his consistency.

  • Comparing Stokes to Botham and Flintoff is about right. Botham was possibly the 3rd or 4th ranking all rounder of his generation (after Imran and Hadlee, and possibly Kapil Dev). Flintoff was hugely inferior to Kallis (who vies with Sobers as the best all rounder of all time) and Pollock. I still recall being roundly condemned in 2005 for suggesting Kallis was No.1 all rounder. And Stokes stands out at present mainly due to a lack of star all rounders elsewhere. He would not rate in the top 10 all rounders given the likes of Sobers, Kallis, Keith Miller, Wilfred Rhodes, Shaun Pollock, Imran, Hadlee, Kapil Dev. And that is without including early cases like Grace and Monty Noble (whose figures for Oz were exceptional for the era and almost all against England).

    Stokes is a fine cricketer, but this elevation to some sort of God is reminiscent of the treatment of Flintoff. I agree numbers do not tell the whole story but, over a long career you can be sure that the best will also produce the numbers.

    • I think comparing Stokes to historic all rounders from other countries is a discussion for another day. Personally I don’t think anyone can live with Imran Khan. Off the top of my head he averaged an incredible 23 with the ball and 37 with the bat. Now that’s a class act. The best I’ve personally seen. I can’t comment on Sobers etc because they were before my time – although I did meet him once.

      • I agree but the core point I wanted to make was that, like Botham and Flintoff, Stokes is overrated (although I agree he is no show pony). I am afraid us England fans have a dreadful habit of claiming any of our star players are all time greats. Stokes is not. And Imran better than Kallis? I agree Imran was a true great but Kallis is the only player who makes the all time great list in two categories – all rounder and opening bat.

        • In answer to your previous post Andy, Stokes stands out not because of a lack of star alternatives but because England cricket fans are sometimes myopically Anglocentric. Stokes record isn’t a patch on Shakib al-Hasan’s (who also has the task of, often single-handedly, rescuing a relatively mediocre team in Tests). Although he’s scored quite a lot fewer runs, Holder is also better if you compare average differentials.

          • Fair point about Shakib. I assumed his stats were flattered by a skew in the opposition and the benefit of Bangladesh wickets, but having visited the breakdown at Howstat that is clearly not the case. Shame about his suspension.

          • With 292 test wickets Kallis was a much more serious test bowler than Imran was a test bat. But the key thing is that Kallis generally bowled as a change seamer, operating with a battered old ball against batsmen who were more often set than if he had opened the bowling. And the only reason he did not open the bowling as well as the batting was that the Saffers had Donald and Pollock for the first ten years of his test career. That let the Saffers manage his workload even though he could top 90mph. If he had played in a side without great quickies he would have ended up with 500 test wickets.
            The only reason Kallis is not universally recognised as the greatest of all is that he combined a true test cadence when batting (no baseball!) with a secondary seamer role and a slightly dour personality.

      • Imran is one of the few all rounders who could play either as a batsman or bowler, but can’t be compared to Sobers, who could be used as a fast, swing or seam bowler and slow left arm, in addition to his middle order batting exploits and brilliant close fielding. Even if you never saw him play, no player ever had close to that in their locker. He’s the Bradman of all rounders. Even Kallis can’t be compared to that.
        The problem with perception of Sir Ian is that he has become a larger than life celebrity personality, largely due to his lukemia walks, which brought him to the attention of the non cricketing public and he became a front page figure. Also his most famous hour coincided with a period of social unrest and economic uncertainty, which needed a boost to morale. No cricketing series has ever made that impact, including the recent ashes home victories, which were more team efforts than individual achievements.
        On the stats side a significant period of Bothams career coincided with the Packer era, where many of the world’s best were not available for selection. The question has to be asked would he have had the same success playing against full strength opposition.

    • Totally agree re Kallis.
      However, not sure either Pollock or Hadlee were good enough batsmen to be described as allrounders.

      • Perception is very interesting here–and, again, possibly Anglocentrism for some people.

        There seems to be a perception, at least among England fans, that Shaun Pollock (batting ave. 32.3) wasn’t a good enough batsman to be an all-rounder–maybe like Ravi Jadeja (ave 35.2) or Jason Holder (ave 32.7)–but that Flintoff (ave 31.8) somehow was.

        My first instinct is to agree about Hadlee, mind.

  • Botham was a better batsman (just) and bowler (by some distance) than Stokes. Flintoff was a better bowler (again, by some distance) but not as good a batsman. All three were / are outstanding slip fielders. For me, Botham is still out in front and Stokes and Flintoff pretty even as things stand. Flintoff didn’t get the wickets his bowling appeared to deserve because he bowled too short, especially at the lower order. Botham was as good as there’s ever been at removing tail enders.

  • I agree that Flintoff is clearly in third place; that Stokes is the best batsman, Botham the best bowler; and that Botham’s later career spoiled otherwise impressive averages. Very difficult to choose between Botham and Stokes. Nobody has mentioned catching and fielding!

    • I mentioned fielding, above. All superb slippers, though Stokes is also an brilliant outfielder, unlike the other two. I actually rate Botham as a slightly better batsman than Stokes – both equally destructive, but Botham had a better technique in my view. A largely forgotten innings that demonstrates this was the unbeaten 50 off 200 balls he made to save the Oval Test against Pakistan in 1987, on a turning wicket against Abdul Qadir (who 10 of 14 England wickets to fall in the match). That said, Stokes has improved enormously in this regard in the last 2 years and could easily overtake Botham in the final reckoning.

  • According to Tim Wigmore, they’re seriously considering playing all England’s internationals this year at the three grounds (Headingley, OT and the Bransgrove Arena) that have on-site hotels.

    Barking mad.

  • The problem here is that by largely using stats, you can almost justify any argument as to who of these 3 is the “best”. Someone once said that a man is only as good as his contemporaries, in cricketing terms I would define that as the era he had played in. Not a great stats person, but I would think Stokes has played more games than Botham at the same age, and possibly Flintoff. For me it’s always going to be Botham, he played against generally better attacks and 3 great all rounders in Hadlee, Kapil and Imran. He also won the ’81 Ashes almost single handedly, with match winning performances with bat and ball in 3 Tests. And in his early days could swing the ball at pace both ways. Stokes has a long career ahead and certainly could emulate this which makes comparisons somewhat difficult now. But Flintoff is a distant 3rd here.

    • I would say the attacks around today is almost as good as Bothan faced, which makes Stokes the clearly the better batsman

      • Not sure about that.

        West Indies alone produced Holding, Roberts, Garner, Marshall, Ambrose, Walsh, Patterson and Bishop during Botham’s career–and that’s without mentioning their other difficult-to-face bowlers like Sylvester Clarke or Colin Croft, or bowlers from other countries like Hadlee, Imran, Wasim, Waqar, Thomson or Lillee. I struggle to come up with many more high-quality seamers than that for every country put together in Stokes’s career.

        One effect of that is that the level of intensity was a step up. You just didn’t get a rest from being barraged relentlessly by those attacks, because there were always four high-pace bowlers. I struggle to think of a series in Stokes’s career where he’s had to face more than two seamers of that intensity.

        Granted, there have been more high-quality spinners in Stokes’s time, but even then probably half the Test-playing countries haven’t had a really top-notch spinner.

        • Show me the great bowlers in sides outside of England, Australia and India. Pakistan has decent bowlers (Abbas can be really superb), but the batting is all over the place at the moment. They will need some time to sort that out. And that weakens the bowling due to having to bail out the batsmen (Younis Khan and Misbah are not easily replaced). As for New Zealand, they have a good team, but they are not commercially interesting, so it is a small miracle if they get more than 2 Tests a series.

          There are better county attacks than there are international attacks, especially away from home. Sri Lanka is dire. South Africa is beyond dire home and away (combined cap total in the last Test against England, when SA played with 5 bowlers was 14; uhmmm). Zimbabwe is also extremely poor, which gets masked by the fact that they hardly play, and if they play it is against Pakistan or Bangladesh – of which no one takes notice. Ireland look like they got Test status a decade too late, and it shows. Afghanistan may develop in a decent / good Test side, but it is too early to tell. I fear though their bowling will be impotent on non-spinning pitches.

          So half the series in international cricket are meant as filling boots for batsmen. Not exactly a high standard.

          The bowling stats from 2017-2020 are heavily improved by substandard pitches, and atrocious batting. Hardly a batsman can be bothered to average 40.

          In the last 3 years (since January 2017), England have been four down with less than 75 runs on the board on 19 occasions. In the 10 years before that, it happened 46 times in total. Likewise it happened 147 times to all teams in the last 3 years, and 301 times in the ten year preceding that. And no, that is not a function of the number of matches played. Eg. it happened 22 times to Sri Lanka in the last 3 years, and only 29 times in the ten years preceding that.

          As for averaging 40+, 27 managed that (including Jadeja and Foakes who apparently can’t be selected because of that sin; minimum of 5 Tests played) in the period between January 2017 and January 2020. It was 39 in the period 2014-2017, 35 in the period 2011-2014, and 41 in the period 2008-2011.

          Also interesting to note that 3 of the 4 batsmen who average 60+ in the last three years are Indian (Kohli, Sharma and Agarwal). Another 5 Indian batsmen average over 40. 5 Australians and 5 New Zealanders did. Which basically tells us that the other 7 teams (Afghanistan and Ireland did not play enough) share 9 batsmen between them who would be considered good. That is an atrocious standard, no matter how you look at it.

      • Didn’t Botham score 14 Test centuries? 5 more than Stokes? Surprised me! Stokes is a better batsman than the Botham I remember (although Old Trafford 81 was pretty good). Botham, however, was an awesome bowler – not just a little better than the other two but on a totally different level. Botham might be the best English bowler I have ever seen.

      • That’s just rubbish. Today’s attacks are awful. Not able to bowl consistently or with anything close to the skill levels. Plus, with the modern player armoured up to the hilt they are able to ‘take on’ shits which would have risked your life before. Meaning it takes less skill to bat now thst before as you don’t have as much ‘fear’

        Let’s not even mention the flatter wickets made for batting slogathons and corporates

  • It’s a good article. But don’t forget their fielding ability. All 3 where outstanding slip/gully fielders and could catch almost at will.

  • CA staff to have 80% pay cut and Taylor and Gilchrist preparing the way for big player pay cuts in Australia.

    Funny how this is just what CA under Peever had been trying to do previously. What a coincidence.

  • The ECB to investigate Ian Watmore over misconduct allegations? I’ve no time for the likes of Watmore but the specific allegations look a big nothing-burger.

    Funny how this happens just when Graves needs to buy more time to prevent the counties pushing for him to go when he needs to be in place in June to get on the ICC.

    Funny how this happens when the case the counties have to get rid of Graves gets stronger by the day as it becomes clearer and clear the 16.66 will not be going ahead this year. (Overseeing the start of the 16.66 was of course the rationale for Graves extending his ECB job).

    Funny how this happens despite the ECB not finding anything worth investigating in the behaviour of Graves, Harrison or Giles Clarke in the previous decade.

    Oh, and well done Novak Djokovic – and here’s to some cricketers taking a similar stand. I hope there are so many the Guardian has to hire an army of writers to produce hit pieces claiming how “dangerous” they are.

  • …meanwhile on a more micro level: Cricket’s crazy economics part 75.

    Today’s (rather non-) story about Glos’ George Hankins getting into trouble for drink-driving was, at least to me, mainly notable for the detail in there that a 23-year-old who’s played for a second-division county for five years and averages 22, who averaged less than 4 last season and who’s never scored more than 14 in a professional T20 innings, is driving…a fucking Mercedes!

    Not to shift any blame away from the ECB, where it definitely belongs, but…people wonder why county finances are precarious.

    • Yes, there are way too many counties and way too many substandard kids and pros in the system. As you also point out, they are getting huge pay and perks for being nothing special..

      Contrast that to key workers….. our priorities have been wrong and he last 4 weeks have highlighted it to all barring the most greed driven

  • “If we lose a county, I don’t think it will be a small one. Have the smaller counties got huge borrowings? No. Have they got massive overheads? No. Are they getting Government support? Yes. Have they furloughed everyone? Yes. Well, that means their costs are next to nothing. It’s the Test match grounds that are vulnerable and some are in better condition than others.”

    Richard Thompson interviewed in the DM. Thompson goes on to make it clear he doesn’t mean his own county – and as Surrey were the only county not to have furloughed their staff that seems believable. Who does he mean?

    Meanwhile, an unnamed county ceo claims 70% of counties will go bust if they don’t get the second half of the 16.66 £1.3m payment.

    The crucial meeting is on Friday. Interesting times….

  • Not read all the comments but this is a touch on the generous side with stokes. I think it’s very unlikely he would make the test side purely as a bowler. Maybe as a bowling all rounder but not as a pure bowler and he is definitely the weakest of the three with the ball. Unlike the others his role has generally been 5th bowler.

    Batting wise it’s another matter. If he retired today then his career as a pure bat would give him an average of 37 and he would go down as a relatively mediocre batsman who had a few good years. Now he has improved a lot so that’s pretty harsh but he needs to sustain recent form to go down as a really good test batsman.

  • Stokes is a far better batsman than Flintoff, though it is debatable whether he is as good a bowler.
    Botham, in his prime, was probably Stoke’s equal with the bat, and his superior with the ball

  • Stokes avg 37 says it all currently.. get that to 45+ and he could be remembered as a one of the better England batsmen. His bowling is way down on botham and flintoff though

    People will defend him but remember Bairstow has a good purple patch too and purple patches end.. it’s whether you can sustain it or now that counts… top players do, average ones wax and wain more

  • All three of them “emptied the bars”, as my dad used to say, and that’s a quality that transcends stats and averages. Botham tore it up between 1977 and 1985, and kept getting picked for England longer than he merited because we all dreamed he would recreate past glories (and did, occasionally – 1st over back after his drug ban in 1986; 1986-87 Ashes; 1992 CWC v Australia).
    Freddie had a fantastic period 2003-2005 which probably coincided with him feeling secure in the team and injury-free. I remember he had an operation to remove a bone spur in the spring of 2005, and thinking that any chance of us regaining the Ashes depended on the outcome of that. Personally, I think Stokesy is a batter-who-bowls a bit, and there’s nothing wrong with that. They all did it on the biggest stage, the Ashes, and that is still what really defines an England player’s career.

  • Prior to Botham’s back problems, when he bowled relatively side-on, he was a world class as bowler. The same cannot be said of Flintoff or Stokes. Stokes isn’t even a third seamer in all honesty, although he has produced good spells on occasion.

    All are/were good fielders. Botham was excellent at slip, possibly the most consistent in that position. Less nimble than Stokes elsewhere in the field though.

    Stokes probably has the edge in talent as a batsman, but I don’t see massive differences in overall performance. If Botham had paced himself a bit better he could have replicated his 228 performance rather more often. Flintoff was a very bowerful hitter and had a greater run of soring 50s at one point. Overall though, I would think Stokes just takes the batting crown.

    Of course, the one day elelement was less of a feature in the past, so my following judgement is based primarily on test cricket returns. To mind mind, over all three disciplines, Botham comes out on top as our best all-rounder over the past 50 years. Anything prior to that is for even older followers to judge – Maurice Tate, Wilf Rhodes, Frank Woolley etc.


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