Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Farewell to all that ...

So, the big man has taken his final bow - though not without a flourish. In a way, victory at The Oval neatly summed up Andrew Flintoff's contribution to English cricket over the last decade: statistically unremarkable (29 runs from two innings; one wicket for 77 runs), but sprinkled with moments of irresistible genius (that Ponting run out).

I was hoping that whilst on a quest to win his second Ashes single-handed, Flintoff would manage to get his bowling average down below his batting average ... Alas, that wasn't to be (and perhaps inevitable, given the patched-up state of the man) and Statsguru at least will always remember him as an allrounder slightly outside the Botham-Khan-Dev bracket.

But Flintoff, certainly in the eyes of fans and team-mates, always seemed to transcend such workaday measurements of greatness; he was a man of 'moments', of enthusiasm, brio and showmanship. The crop bore a number of choice career cherries, and everyone has their Freddie favourites. From a blistering 84 from 60 balls against Pakistan as England chased 300 plus in an ODI for the first time in their history; to his maiden Ashes ton, adding 177 with Geraint Jones in 40 overs at Trent Bridge; to that down-on-one-knee stuff at Lord's. And who could forget 'Mind the windows, Tino'?

But that's the stuff of whistful reminiscence and grainy HD footage in years to come. Using the raw data of this statistical, chronological retrospective, I propose we do the Flintoff 'math' instead ...

  • After 20 Test innings, spread over almost four years, Beefy's latest much-heralded successor was still to pass 50. Then something finally clicked, as Flintoff blasted 137 in an extraordinary Test against New Zealand in 2002 - following a run of three ducks in four innings, as well. The lad clearly didn't do things by halves.
  • The following summer, Flintoff averaged above 50 in a series for the first time. His 423 runs at 52.87 against South Africa helped Michael Vaughan to elude a home defeat in his first series in charge. Even better, under Vaughan (Nasser Hussain resigned after the first Test), Flintoff averaged 54.71.
  • Between March 2002 and August 2005, Fred scored five Test tons. The roughly four-year spells either side, contained none. Purple Freddie was exhilarating while he lasted, though.
  • Flintoff took the new ball for the first time in India in 2001, claiming then best figures of four for 50 in the second Test. It was an early sign of his bowling proficiency outside of England (due to his back-of-a-length style); he averaged 29.69 on tour as opposed to 36.11 at home.
  • Despite only taking three five-wicket hauls in his career, Flintoff was at his champion best bowling to the Aussies. Two of his five-fors came against the old enemy, and in total he claimed 50 Australian victims, more than against any other nation. His other five-for? West indies at Bridgetown.
  • From 2002 onwards, when Andrew Flintoff really started to become England's Fred, his bowling was almost metronomically reliable, if not always devastating. Between then and his retirement, Flintoff only went wicketless in a match three times: twice at Edgebaston (against South Africa and Australia, in his penultimate Test) and at Perth in 2006.
  • During those years as the attack's go-to bowler, between August 2004 and March 2006 Flintoff took a wicket every time he bowled - a run stretching across 37 innings.
  • Flintoff achieved the allrounder's holy grail of a better batting than bowling average against three opponents: the relatively weak West Indians and New Zealand; and Australia. Again indicative of the man's capacity to seize the moments that mattered, Fred's 33.55 with the bat and 33.20 with the ball against the world's No1 side are indicative of how good his career stats could actually have been.
Anyway, that's enough numbers for now. The geek in me has been sated. But here's looking forward to the Stuart Broad version in a decade or so.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009


One man will be more important than any other to England's hopes of winning the decisive Oval Test, which starts tomorrow, and thereby regaining the Ashes - but it won't be the six foot four Lancastrian near-legend we call Fred.

Andrew Strauss has gone about his Ashes 2009 business with quiet efficiency, much as he has done since returning to the side against New Zealand in 2008 after being dropped due to poor form. He is England's highest run-getter by a clear hundred (344 @ 49) - as he was during the fight to save the series in the Caribbean (541 @ 68) over the winter - and he currently averages at least 10 more than any of his top six colleagues do against the Aussie attack.

That, coupled with a direct, pragmatic approach to the captaincy, means Strauss has emerged as the team's MVP - a status conferred as much by his approach and ability as the absence of a certain KP. He has also succeeded in defying the traditional affliction of batting like an England captain, ie. poorly - as this comparison of his averages with and without the extra responsbility shows (a handy link that will either add weight to or disprove the contention as time passes).

Strauss has thrived under pressure, leading by example and tackling the Australian menace head-on, albeit in his trademark undemonstrative manner. Contrast and compare with England's supposed titan, Andrew Flintoff, for a moment. Fred took the plaudits for his five-for at Lord's (when Australia made 400 in their second innings) ... but shouldn't, as Lawrence Booth points out in his Spin column, the MoM award really have gone to Strauss for his first-dig 161?

Not to say that Flintoff's presence in England's fifth-Test line up is insignificant. He appears as some kind of bogeyman in the tourists' psyche and his no-nonsense batting bolsters the lower-middle order a sight more than Steve Harmison's. But he bowls as part of an ensemble cast - with seven wickets at 49 he is fourth in the England standings - while Strauss is the team's standout batsman.

Australia must be bowled out twice on what is likely to be a batter's wicket, and Flintoff's fire will be as important as the hoped-for contributions from Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad et al. But England have also to score 'big runs' (and winning the toss wouldn't do any harm either). This is Strauss's department - and if he hits his straps again, he might just drag the rest of the team with him.

No pressure, Andrew ...

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