As Ben Stokes continues to rise in stature, his numbers are matching and surpassing another allrounder in Andrew Flintoff. But it’s unfair to compare them on numbers alone.
Measuring Ben Stokes against Andrew Flintoff’s success is not an outrageous thing to do, either due to their playing style, or charismatic, occasionally hot-headed, nature.
But when you compare their numbers alone, Ben Stokes has already reached Flintoff’s level.
Over the course of Flintoff’s 79-Test match career, he struck five centuries and took three five wicket hauls. Ben Stokes has already reached these feats in 35 tests.
But does that mean Stokes is better? Not necessarily.
After the most recent Test match at the Oval against South Africa, Stokes was asked about emulating Flintoff. He said: “I’m trying to produce certain moments in a game so it can swing our way but I am not trying to live up to anyone else’s reputation. I’m trying to do what I do and trying to keep putting in good performances.”
It’s undeniable that numbers show Stokes achieving more at a better rate, but it’s not just about numbers. There’s a reason why Stokes would talk of trying to ‘live up’ to Flintoff.
Everyone could see how good Flintoff was, but it never really translated in the record books. Regardless of that, given the option of having him or not, you’d take him every time. Why? Because he was a talisman. He didn’t take lots of five wicket halls, or convert enough fifties into tons, but he got out big players at crucial times and changed games. And he balanced a team – a very different team in a different era, in different playing conditions, and against arguably better oppositions.
Fred was part of Duncan Fletcher’s England, who battled a mighty South African side and defeated one of the best Australian teams in history. Who knows what Stokes would do if he had to face Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath? Would he have run down the pitch to Murali, like he does to Keshav Maharaj? I don’t think so.
Whilst Flintoff was at the heart of a settled team, Stokes has had more opportunity, and necessity, to take responsibility. Stokes is part of a side which has been searching for a number of permanent positions in the top order.
This means that Stokes is not coming in to hit a nice cameo; he’s one of England’s best batsman. And, let’s face it, by the end of Flintoff’s career he was batting at seven or eight. He was a bowling allrounder, and Stokes is a batting allrounder.
Lastly, the game has changed considerably in recent times. Whether it’s the impact of T20 which has increased risk-taking, or DRS leading to wickets that would never have been given 10-years-ago, there are lots of variables.
Whilst it’s disappointing that Flintoff’s numbers don’t represent how good he was, Stokes surpassing his statistical achievements don’t tell the whole story.
Anyone who watched Flintoff knows he was a lot better than his record suggests. And anyone who wants to compare England best two all-rounders in recent times should remember who Stokes is looking up to.