Thursday, August 6, 2009

Botham v Flintoff

As the Ashes merry-go-round moves on to Leeds, memories will no doubt be stirred of the great deeds from twenty-eight years ago when first Ian Botham and then Bob Willis upset the odds of 500/1 to give England the most unlikely of victories.

While Bob Willis’s eight for 43 was crucial in applying the coup de grace, it was Ian Botham’s unbeaten 149 which really captured the imagination and secured his status as a true legend of the game.

Fast-forward to 2009 and the headlines are again being made by a weighty all-rounder whose off-the-field exploits often provide tabloid headlines – this time Andrew Flintoff. As if his Herculean efforts of 2005 were not enough, he bowled throughout the morning session in the second Test at Lord’s to give England their first victory over Australia at Headquarters since the Hedley Verity-inspired triumph of 1934 – when the average house price in England was a princely £515.

So – how do the two of them compare Ratings-wise? As Flintoff comes to the end of his Test career, what can the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings tell us about these two greats of the modern game?

Botham: Highest Rating 811 (1982). Highest Ranking 3rd (1982). Average 586
Flintoff: Highest Rating 646 (2006). Highest Ranking 20th (2006) Average 468

Not much comparison there on first inpection. Botham was a good enough batsman in his own right to reach the top three in the world and it is often forgotten that he scored fourteen Test centuries and ended with an average of 33.54. However, Flintoff’s average is just a fraction less at 32.06 but with just five centuries. One area in which Freddie has suffered is while Botham converted 39% of his fifties into centuries, Flintoff has only managed 16% and so he hasn’t posted the eye-catching big innings which his predecessor managed.

Botham: Highest Rating 910 (1980). Highest Ranking 1st (60 matches) Average 687
Flintoff: Highest Rating 810 (2005). Highest Ranking 4th (2005) Average 485

Botham first topped the bowling tree in August 1978 after taking eleven Kiwi wickets in just his eleventh Test. He stayed there for most of the next two years before he was nudged out of the top spot by Joel Garner. Only seven bowlers have ever surpassed his career-best Rating of 911 which he achieved after his thirteen wickets in the Golden Jubilee Test at Mumbai in February 1980. While Flintoff has had his moments, a career-haul of just three five-wicket hauls compares disappointingly with Botham’s then-record of 27. Missing numerous Test Matches due to injury hasn’t helped his cause, but even had he stayed fit for all of those, he still would have struggled to close the gap on the 1980s star.

Botham: Highest Rating 646 (1980). Highest Ranking 1st (120 matches) Average 415
Flintoff: Highest Rating 501 (2005). Highest Ranking 1st (6 matches) Average 259

Botham’s peak Rating of 646 really deserves a second look. With a Batting Rating of 709 and a Bowling Rating of 911 it has only been surpassed by one man in the history of the game – Garry Sobers. There is no denying the fact that at the time, he was the most dynamic cricketer in the world. He was also able to top the all-rounder charts for 120 Tests despite the presence of the other three greats of the time – Richard Hadlee, Imran Khan and Kapil Dev. Flintoff did have his moment in the sun – not surprisingly in his annus mirabilis of 2005, but a certain Jacques Kallis has dominated ever since.

In conclusion, there is no denying the fact that Flintoff has been a very good player for England for the past decade. However when put in context with his predecessor in the England middle-order, it really becomes clear that despite his last eight Tests coming when he was clearly past his peak (averaging 14 with the bat and 48 with the ball) Botham was a truly great player, and that Flintoff comes up some way short – as do most of the other 2,564 players to play Test cricket.