August 23, 2009

Michael Jeh

Limited-overs a major challenge for Flintoff

Michael Jeh



The charm of sport lies in the warm afterglow of careers like Andrew Flintoff. Sport allows for charisma and romance to overshadow mere statistics. It recognises that sheer force of personality and the ability to galvanise a nation counts for more than runs and wickets, averages and strike rates, win/loss ratios. Flintoff has the humility to recognise sport’s forgiving nature and he has the personal brand to capitalise on that sense of being bigger even than he deserves to be.

In a revealing interview with Jonathan Agnew of BBC’s radio commentary team, Flintoff speaks determinedly, yet without arrogance, about the next stage of his cricket career – to become the best player in the world in the short form of the game. Despite his optimism and the warmth surrounding the man in these hours of celebration, I simply can’t see that happening. Not by a long shot.

To say that is not to decry his talents or question his skill. Flintoff is an easy champion to like and to wish him well is not a difficult thing, even for an Australian, even after an Ashes loss. My reasoning is based purely on cricketing ability and durability. I don’t think Flintoff has the game or the body to possibly come close to realising this dream.

To begin with, to become the best limited-overs player in the game, he must first raise his game to hitherto unscaled heights to begin matching the pace-setters like Sachin Tendulkar, Jacques Kallis, Ricky Ponting, Chris Gayle, Kevin Pietersen, Sanath Jayasuriya, Muttiah Muralitharan and a host of others whose numbers stack up over a long period of time. Flintoff will probably not have the luxury of playing enough cricket, without interruption, to keep racking up performances to even be considered in that elite company. His fragile knees, ankles, back and shoulder (well, his whole body really) will make it virtually untenable to be considered for back-to-back ODI games, especially when you add the travelling and training requirements of a packed international calendar.

As a batsman, he will probably need to bat somewhere in the top five to have time to play enough innings of substance to be considered amongst the very best exponents of this craft. He will need hundreds, fast hundreds, slow hundreds, boundary-laden innings and others that require milking spinners and scampering runs when conditions dictate it. That’s why some of the great batsmen mentioned above have flourished for so long. They have a completeness to their batting which Flintoff doesn’t possess. Nor should he – he’s batted at 7 for most of his Test career and has played a totally different sort of role. Scoring hundreds against quality spin bowling in run chases on slowing tracks requires a range of strokes and a level of fitness that is probably beyond the big man. His power game is probably too one-dimensional at the moment. To be fair, he admitted as much in the radio interview, conceding that he needs to invent other strokes in his repertoire that go beyond the big booming drives down the ground. Modern ODI cricket can choke predictability all too predictably!

As a bowler, he needs to take wickets, lots of wickets, to rank amongst the genuine match-winners or game-turners in the shortened version of the game. That requires a body that doesn’t need the luxury of easing into his workload, short, sharp spells and the ability to cool down and warm up at short notice to return for game-changing moments. That’s not Flintoff’s body, especially not if he has already batted and has flung himself around in the field, as he would inevitably have to do once the slips have been dispensed with.

His economy rate is certainly no problem. 4.32 runs per over is more than satisfactory if he is striking at an average of close to two wickets per game. That’s the sort of territory that the Muralitharans, Warnes and Pollocks own – less than four runs per over and almost two wickets per game, playing every game in long tournaments. They also tend to have lots of big hauls that win matches singlehandedly, sometimes from impossible positions.

Flintoff’s natural length, shortish and tight in at the body will be frugal enough but without the luxury of slip fielders, he will simply lack the bowled and lbw dismissals that the best ODI bowlers need on predominantly flat tracks. Straightforward nicks to second slip will go flying down to third man for boundaries. He will need to change his length and develop a very good slower ball that is aimed at the stumps. I suspect it will be a bridge too far at his stage of evolution.

His safe hands and powerful arm will be adequate but the great fielders in the modern game need a lot more than that to regularly change games with consistent moments of brilliance. Again, his cumbersome frame will count against him. Mind you, what can you say about his ‘Ponting moment’ at the Oval?

At the end of the day, ODI’s and Twenty20s require the quintessential modern athlete to conquer it. To Flintoff’s eternal credit, he is anything but that. To me, that is his charm and his appeal. His fierce competitiveness doesn’t come at the expense of a broad smile. His lusty hitting won’t be sacrificed for the percentage ‘nurdle’. Flintoff is an old-fashioned buccaneer in a new age that has moved to a more scientific, clinical, innovative focus. The best player in the world he will never be but he will always embody what’s good about sport. Beer over boor. Heart over head. That’s the Freddie I’d like to remember!

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane

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Posted by dave robinson on (August 25, 2009, 10:16 GMT)

None of the players you mention are all rounders, and so maybe your comparisons are faulty. compare flintoff and botham in one dayers and flintoff is vastly superior

Posted by john on (August 25, 2009, 1:25 GMT)

Freddie before he takes the fireld is worth 50 runs and 3 wickets. in the way he lifts the team.he puts bums on seats, and when on song he is the best Bowler and best batsman. consistency is a factor for sure. But in my book at least he is already number one, but hey what an ounce of bias can do:)

Posted by Mahesh S. Panicker on (August 24, 2009, 12:11 GMT)

Andrew Flintoff is already among the best death bowlers in international cricket, has got a deadly yorcker, good pace, right line and length, all atributes needed to make it count at the highest level in OD cricket. he is not a Tendulkar, a Ponting, or even a Sanath Jayasuriya. but he can be effective with the bat, and if he gives enough focus to his batting, he can be the power finisher that England so badly needs in their lineup. someone like a Yuvraj Singh. that should take some doing though, as he needs to adapt his game to different circumstances. but since he's freed enough now to focus on OD cricket, and stress on his body is less, I believe he has got the ability. he might not become a Tendulkar with the bat or a Murali with the ball, but he can be Flintoff, can have an identity of his own,and can become one of the best allrounders of our age. I believe that is what he's looking to do. Fredye will be missed at the test level for sure, but here's wishing him all the best.

Posted by Michael Jeh on (August 24, 2009, 7:04 GMT)

To Love Goel, in Flintoff's interview on BBC, he talked about being the best ODI player in the world, not necessarily the best ever. I still don't think he'll play enough cricket to take on that mantle at any period of his career. I hope he proves me wrong though because I like him. To Safwan, this essay wasn't about mentioning any of the other great players. The essay would have been too long. I just picked two illustrations from the top of my head. Yes, Wasim was indeed a genius and must rank as one of the all-time greats. Allan Edgar, good point mate. Flintoff has batted higher in ODI's. I still don't think he'll have the game to be No 1 but England can rise to the top, carried by his charisma. If his body holds out!!!

Posted by Sid on (August 24, 2009, 6:34 GMT)

safwan...sorry to intervene....ahemm ahemm....in future, when u comment on a post,please read it properly.Michael is only talkin about current ODI players,not retired ones like Wasim Akram.Please check the list properly Sachin Tendulkar, Jacques Kallis, Ricky Ponting, Chris Gayle, Kevin Pietersen, Sanath Jayasuriya, Muttiah Muralitharan.All are active players and Wasim retired in 2003.

Posted by safwan on (August 24, 2009, 4:45 GMT)

michael...sorry to intervene....ahemm ahemm....in future, when u talk abt the best players ever to play the one day game....kindly do not forget one name, MR.WASIM AKRAM! arguably the most supremely skilled fast bowler of all time!

kind regards.

Posted by love goel on (August 24, 2009, 0:28 GMT)

The author misses the point completely; Flintoff is not trying to be the best ever. He is trying to become as good as any other player in the game. There is no need for him(and neither can he) to become Tendulkar and score 40 centuries, no need to take wickets like Murali or Warne. He can become a great batsmen from no 7, great bowler without taking lot of wickets, if on crucial moments, in big matches, he can create special and memorable performances, win matches for england and take them to a whole new level. Than he will considered the best in the world;to expect him to become the most complete batsmen/bowler is just plain silly

Posted by Alan Edgar on (August 23, 2009, 23:40 GMT)

"he’s batted at 7 for most of his Test career".

Only 54 of his 130 innings have been at 7, more than half (66) at 6 and even 4 innings above that.

Posted by anshuman v tyagi on (August 23, 2009, 19:22 GMT)

He can't be the greatest ever, even if he plays and wins the 2 world cups he is aiming for but can strive surely for the greatest of the coming period surely.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Jeh
Born in Colombo, educated at Oxford and now living in Brisbane, Michael Jeh (Fox) is a cricket lover with a global perspective on the game. An Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, he is a Playing Member of the MCC and still plays grade cricket. Michael now works closely with elite athletes, and is passionate about youth intervention programmes. He still chases his boyhood dream of running a wildlife safari operation called Barefoot in Africa.

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