Ian Botham v Andrew Flintoff: Battle of the all-rounders
Pablo Luna - Moonlighting for Betfair. Pablo looks at the stats and character of England's two greatest ever all-rounders
Andrew Flintoff has long been hailed the new Ian Botham with incessant comparisons over the years. I know who is best by a distance and I have been looking at the stats to see if they corroborate my views. They do!
They share many common characteristics including their talent but the different times in which they played cricket impacted on their careers producing a major character demarcation. Contrast the intense gambler with a sharp edge against the cerebral gentle giant, the swing and surprise against the pace and disguise.
Botham spent his formative years under the stewardship of renegade Brian Close and bowling maestro Tom Cartwright. The perfect start to a career with Close imparting grit and determination whilst Cartwright the crafts of swing and cut bowling. Botham then linked up with , a man who understood audacity and spirit with the knowledge Mike Brearleyto harness it.
Flintoff was lucky in that he had central contracts to protect him from the worst excesses. His mentor was the stable but pallid Duncan Fletcher. His primary captain would be the Brearley impostor - Michael Vaughan.
Botham performed best against England's arch-rivals. 148 of his Test victims were Australians and his bowling average against them was lower than his career overall. He still holds the record for the highest number of Test wickets ever taken by an Englishman at 383 in 102 matches (3.75 per match). He has taken 5 wickets in an innings 27 times and 10 wickets in a match 4 times.
Flintoff has taken 206 wickets in 70 games (2.94 per match) and is the 11th highest Englishman. He has taken 5 wickets in an innings on just 2 occasions and never taken 10 wickets in a match. Mitigating circumstances would include his wretched luck with injuries because of his bowling action.
Botham scored 5,200 runs with 14 centuries and 22 fifties at an average of 33.54. Flintoff has scored 3,494 runs with just 5 centuries and 24 fifties averaging 32.21. Although they both catch flies in the slips I was surprised to see that Freddie has 47 catches compared to Sir Ian's 120. These averages represent a disparity that are disproportionate to their abilities - or do they?
When talking about all-rounders an important statistic is that Botham has scored a century and taken 5 wickets in an innings in the same Test match on 5 occasions. No one else has achieved this feat more than twice.
Had Botham been playing with the luxury of central contracts then I am certain that his statistics would be enhanced even more? For example his first 202 wickets came at 21.20 per wicket, while his final 181 averaged 36.43. His batting average of 38.80 for his first 51 Tests was substantially higher than the 28.87 he managed in his last 51 Tests. Those initial averages were phenomenal and of specialist batsmen and bowlers standard!
Both players were inept captains but it will be hard to forget the most humiliating 0-5 defeat ever in the 2006-07 Ashes Series in Australia where Flintoff contributed virtually nothing except a bar bill. He had proven he was the greatest allrounder since Botham with some wholehearted performances in 2005 where he scored 402 runs and took 24 wickets. Added to his reverse swing he contributed significantly to one of the greatest Ashes victories of all time but even that remains in the shadow of 1981.
What cuts Botham above everyone else was his unique and special inner resolve. Freddie, although a grand workhorse does not possess the same degree of potency. I remember in 1974 when a bouncer from the lethal West Indian fast bowler Andy Roberts hit him full in the mouth. He spat out his teeth and carried on playing his trademark hook shot. Can you name another cricketer who would do that? Apart from Brian Close maybe?
Friends of Freddie will claim that their man has a better ODI record than Sir Ian but I am not convinced we are comparing like with like and dismiss it. Limited over cricket has evolved into something completely different and often against sub-standard sides.
Sir Ian Botham is the second best allrounder in cricket history to Sir Garfield St Auburn Sobers. Andrew Flintoff is England's second best allrounder to Sir Ian Botham. How could anyone really disagree? Has it been fair or justified to continually compare these cricketers from different eras with each other?
I look forward to Flintoff redeeming himself in the 2009 Ashes Series and I believe he will with a more judicious head. Latest Betfair prices on this number one fixture is England  Australia [1.71] Draw [6.2].