Andrew Flintoff: splitting opinions ... and trousers © Touchline

Entities with an overt dislike for one another often have a lot more in common than anyone would care to admit: Mancunians and Scousers; Oasis and Blur in their Britpop pomp. And Americans and cricket. Aside from the well-drawn parallels between baseball and cricket, there is no more statistically orientated sport outside the United States.

The nearest equivalent to Don Bradman and his legendary 99.94, for example, is the Boston Red Sox hitter, Ted Williams, the last man to break the .400 mark in baseball. As in American sports, cricket statistics are gospel, the key tool for judging the merit of an individual performer. Yet to many people, their extensive use is almost sacrilegious.

In football, and most other sports, value judgments are made; in cricket, the judgment, you suspect, is sometimes adjusted to fit the stats. Barry Richards and Mike Atherton, most notably, have been outspoken in their criticism of cricket's number-munching, and in Test cricket one man reflects their point more than anyone: Andrew Flintoff.

To most good judges, Flintoff is now the heartbeat of England's Test team, the tubthumping heir to Darren Gough. To the statisticians, England could live and breathe just fine without him: he averages 26 with the bat (a fraction above Geoff Miller) and 45 with the ball (just below Craig McMillan). His allrounder quotient (batting average minus bowling average) is only just uber-Irani; it's nowhere near Botham's. By the classical allrounder criteria - being able to get in for one discipline alone - his best chance might be to sneak in as perhaps the world's best slip fielder. Compared to his contemporaries, Flintoff's stats are embarrassing.

Some players, however, inevitably transcend statistics; inevitably, it is usually the swashbucklers. The miracle of Adam Gilchrist, for example, is not that he has averaged over 50, but that he has done so playing the way he has. Flintoff has something of the same. No record book will tell you how many hairs stood up on the backs of necks around England as he demolished South Africa at The Oval last summer; nor can they do justice to the fact that he is England's best slipper since Botham.

The batting, generally, is coming along. He still has subcontinental issues, but he has made batting (and getting out) look effortless in the current West Indies series, and last summer treated the South Africans with a contempt that bordered on the indecent.

It is the bowling, statistically speaking, that has been the main problem. Like Gilchrist, Flintoff is touchingly selfless, particularly with the ball, but that alone cannot explain such a huge disparity between performance and reward.

There are many contributory factors: a lack of movement away from the right-hander, a naturally defensive length, the product of being (until recently) the only reliable figure in a young, wayward attack, some shocking luck (whereas Botham found umpteen weird and wonderful ways to take wickets, Flintoff finds reasons not to - chiefly through his absence from the slip cordon), and his willing acceptance of a role that precludes glory. Botham would never have taken one for the team in the way Flintoff does every time he is tossed a ragged old ball and asked to bottle up a burgeoning partnership.

Yet while nobody is seriously suggesting that Flintoff - the red-blooded, blue-eyed boy of English cricket - should be dropped, the fact is that his stats show little sign of improvement. Even since his coming-of-age tour in 2001-02 he averages a modest 29 and 43. No allrounder has played 50 Tests with such an ordinary output, let alone 100.

Perhaps it is all just lies, damned lies and statistics. A visitor from Mars, or even Memphis, would think Thilan Samaraweera to be an alltime great. A visitor from Neptune, or Nebraska, would have no idea of the extraordinary impact Learie Constantine (Test batting average 19, bowling 30) had on the game. Nobody who has felt the Flintoff force doubts he is the most complete allrounder England have had since you-know-who. But it would be nice if those pesky stats showed it as well.

England allrounders since Botham

Matches Quotient
Dominic Cork 37 -11.81
Chris Lewis 32 -14.50
Phil DeFreitas 44 -18.75
Andrew Flintoff 31 -18.99
Derek Pringle 30 -20.87
David Capel 15 -35.08

Round the World (top five)

Matches Quotient After 31 Tests
Jacques Kallis 78 23.65 13.66
Shaun Pollock 83 11.90 8.71
Chris Cairns 59 4.70 -4.99
Heath Streak 59 -4.03 -9.40
Andrew Flintoff 31 -18.99 n/a

Rob Smyth is a freelance writer based in London.