Trial by water, trial by fire

Two English legends against two of the greatest bowlers ever



Clockwise from above left: Marshall, Flintoff, Hutton, Muralitharan © PA Photos, Getty Images

For most of us, uncovered pitches are not even a distant memory. They are a curious footnote to a bygone age. Sticky dog? You what? In this batsman-dominated era I would love to see someone like Muttiah Muralitharan bowl on a drying wicket. It might be as hard for him as for the batsman, because he might turn it too much. The man to take him on is Len Hutton, the teak-tough Yorkshireman whose unbeaten 62, from No. 8, out of 122 all out on a Brisbane sticky in 1950-51 is the epitome of wet-wicket batting.

At the other end of the speedometer is Malcolm Marshall and his fellow 1980s West Indian quicks. The Ian Botham v Andrew Flintoff debate which has vexed England supporters might be settled by seeing Flintoff take on the best bowlers from Botham's era. Botham averaged only 21 against West Indies, 12 below his career average. They bounced him relentlessly and he took them on relentlessly. One of the modern batsman's friends is clearly the limit on bouncers.

Would Flintoff have the technique to get in against Marshall in full swing, and would he have the patience and discipline not to be sucked into a macho battle of wills against the fearsome foursome? My gut feeling is to answer no to the first question and yes to the second. Whether he would have scored any more runs against them, though, is a moot point. With David Gower and Allan Lamb preceding him in the batting order, Botham had a better middle order against serious pace to aid him.

John Stern is editor of the Wisden Cricketer