Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @miller_cricket
ZIM v WI (1)
Super Smash (1)
Super Smash (W) (1)
Ben Stokes has already surpassed the feats of Andrew Flintoff, and is well on his way to overtaking Sir Ian Botham as England's greatest allrounder, according to James Anderson, who has reiterated his desire to carry on playing alongside his team-mate at least until the next Ashes tour of Australia in 2021-22.
However, speaking in the build-up to the third Test at Emirates Old Trafford - a match for which he hopes to be recalled after being rested for last week's 113-run win - Anderson warned that the issue of workload was every bit as applicable to Stokes as to the rest of England's ever-rotating seam attack, after an extraordinarily wholehearted display.
Not content with a total of 254 runs across two of the most vastly contrasting innings ever compiled in a single Test match, Stokes also chipped in with three wickets, including a vital last-day breakthrough that set England up for a series-squaring win. And, at one stage in the victory push - with attacking fields leaving no men in front of the bat - he sprinted full-tilt to the long-off boundary to intercept a straight drive off his own bowling.
"Ben was very stiff yesterday after doing pretty much everything over the five days of that Test match," said Anderson. "He was chasing balls off his own bowling, he batted for most of our two innings, and he got wickets as well. It can take its toll so we've got to look after him and make sure we can keep getting the best out of them for as long as possible."
Anderson is perhaps uniquely placed to pass judgment on Stokes' status among England allrounders. He played alongside Flintoff in 25 Tests in his formative years in the England set-up, between 2003 and 2009, during which time Flintoff transformed into the world-beating cricketer who dominated the 2005 Ashes. Then in Antigua in 2015, Anderson overhauled Botham's longstanding figure of 383 to become England's leading Test wicket-taker, and has since added more than 200 scalps to reach his current tally of 587.
Stokes' sheer weight of numbers don't yet match up to those of Botham, who also amassed 5200 runs in his 102-Test career. And yet, in 45 Tests since the start of 2016, Stokes' averages rise to 43.60 with the bat and 28.00 with the ball - reminiscent of Flintoff's three-year zenith between 2003 and 2006, when he averaged 41.30 and 27.78 in 38 Tests. Since the start of the 2019 Ashes, Stokes has averaged 59.38 with the bat alone.
"He's certainly the best allrounder I've ever played with," Anderson said, "and he's becoming the best allrounder that England's ever had. There's no reason why he can't go on to become even better. With the bat he's averaging in the 40s, with the ball he's below 30, and he's taking spectacular catches. It's just incredible that we've got him on our team and he's great to watch."
Stokes' display in Manchester enabled him to overhaul West Indies' captain Jason Holder as the No.1 allrounder in the ICC's player rankings, and he has risen to No.3 in the batting rankings too - with only Australia's Steve Smith and India's Virat Kohli sitting above him at present. After the match, England's captain, Joe Root, dubbed him "Mr Incredible" in tribute to a performance that evoked his game-changing displays with ball and bat at Headingley last summer.
"It's hard to say how good he is because it's hard to find the words," added Anderson. "Joe said the other day we were in the presence of greatness and he's spot on. He gets into any team as a batsman, while his bowling gets better and better each time he goes out there. It's just amazing to have that talent in our team, and to be able to watch it first-hand as well was amazing."
While Anderson is anticipating a recall on his home ground at Old Trafford - a stadium that now bears his name as one of its two ends - there are no guarantees that he will be reunited with his long-term sidekick, Stuart Broad - a player alongside whom he has claimed 471 wickets in 116 Tests, and who expressed his own disgruntlement at being omitted from the opening match of the series.
Anderson turns 38 at the end of the month and Broad is already 34, so with a pack of fit and eager fast bowlers queuing up for opportunities after cricket's lengthy lockdown suspension, he acknowledged that opportunities for regular starting berths may be harder to come by now than at any previous stage of their respective careers.
"I'd love to think that we've got plenty more games together in the future," Anderson said. "Our record together speaks for itself. Obviously, there will be moments in the future where we're not bowling together, which is happening in the series already and in the last two years. But I'd like to think that, if we're in a situation where we're both fit and England are picking their strongest bowling attack, we both be in that.
"You always want to be in that best team," he added. "That's all I've ever tried to do and it's the same with Stuart. But we've got six or seven world-class bowlers in this group, so we're making sure that everyone's in the right place, and the right frame of mind to go out and bowl their best for England if called upon."
Although he has played in just four of England's last 14 Tests, Anderson's stature as a swing and seam bowler is undiminished. At Cape Town in January, he became the oldest English quick to take an overseas five-wicket haul since Freddie Brown in 1951, and though he will be approaching 40 by the time England next head down under in 2021-22, his desire to make up for missing last summer's Ashes has encouraged him to take a more phlegmatic attitude to the team's rotation policy.
"I think I can deal with it a bit better now than I did a few years ago," he said. "Looking at the bigger picture, I want to be around when we go to Australia for the next Ashes, so to be able to do that, I've certainly got to do things slightly differently.
"It might mean missing the odd game here or there to make sure that I'm in the best possible situation," he added. "I want to keep bowling and keep my form, but I also want to look after my body as much as I can as well. I'm a bit more open to it now than I was, say, two or three years ago."