August 20, 2009

Ashes

Flintoff comes up short in great debate

Jamie Alter

The Times' Mike Atherton continues on one of his favourite topics, Andrew Flintoff, saying the allrounder comes up short in the debate of great England players. It cannot be be doubted that Flintoff is capable of great moments, great series and a great period even, says Atherton, but there are a few buts.

The biggest - and our chief sports writer will stop reading now if he hasn't already - is his record. Those damn statistics. Without exception in the modern game, greatness has been conferred on those with outstanding records in international cricket. The conferring of greatness must adhere to these strict guidelines out of respect for past heroes. Flintoff has a very good record, but not a great one. His bowling average is marginally higher than his batting average, and three five-wicket hauls and five Test hundreds speak of a cricketer whose performances have fallen short of the very highest standards that great all-rounders should aim for.

Steve Harmison must be swapped for Flintoff at The Oval, writes former England coach Duncan Fletcher in his Guardian blog. Yes, Harmison bounced a couple of players out in the fourth Test, but that doesn't win you games. Five-wicket hauls are the key to success. Look at Flintoff: when he finally managed to take a five-for at Lord's, England won the match, reminds Fletcher.

As for the batting, I would have made one change only: swap Ravi Bopara and Ian Bell. It was clear Bopara needed moving away from the frontline, and Bell bats at No3 for Warwickshire. I don't care that his Test record there is not what it might be: he should be comfortable at first drop. Instead the selectors have taken a huge gamble by handing a Test debut to Jonathan Trott in the most high-pressure situation imaginable. I just hope they weren't swayed by all the crazy talk leading up to this Test.

In the same paper Mike Selvey notes how the build-up to the final Test has been blighted by a depressing feeling of inevitability following the rout at Headingley. Fear rather than fervour marks England's final push for glory, he says.

Shane Warne in the Times writes that with Ravi Bopara struggling all series, Paul Collingwood should have been putting his hand up to bat at Nos 3 and 4 especially with Kevin Pietersen injured.

Twenty wickets on an Oval pitch? It could happen, says David Lloyd in the Independent.

In his column in the same paper Matthew Hayden writes that this is a time to be bold – so England should drop Stuart Broad for Ryan Sidebottom.

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Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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