Cricket is a sport with perhaps more nuances than any other. It is a game which can last between five days and a couple of hours, often without producing a result, and its unique subtleties and traditions set it apart from any other mainstream sport.
It is also completely fixated by statistics. Nobody can be considered to be making an accurate or intelligent judgement on a team, player ground or indeed any microscopic element of the game without first consulting the record books.
The success of a player in particular can be determined as much by his stats as what people remember of his actual performances and, for the generations who follow, player’s averages define their status in the game.
Mention the name Andrew Flintoff to any contemporary cricket fan and the response will almost certainly be one of gushing admiration.
"Fred," is one of the modern greats. He is a bowler capable of fast, hostile and inspirational spells against the very best batsmen combined with brutal displays of hitting with the bat as well as metronomical slip catching and is talismanic presence for every team he represents.
There might be some trepidation surrounding his captaincy but Flintoff’s errors in judgement only seem to make him more accessible. He is a people’s champion.
But a quick glance at cricinfo reveals some surprising statistical evidence against "Fred."
The commonly cited yardstick for an all-rounder is a batting average higher than a bowling one. Flintoff currently meets those credentials; but only just.
His batting average of 32.23 (prior to the first Test vs West Indies) is only .11 of a run higher than his bowling average; somewhat surprising considering his immense ability and reputation.
Of course, cricketers know that stats do not tell the full story and characters as headstrong as Flintoff know that his status within the game is assured, no matter what happens for the rest of his career.
His averages make no mention of "that over," at Edgbaston in 2005, his spell at Jacques Kallis at the same venue last summer, his batting on the fourth morning against South Africa at the Oval in 2004 or his inspired performance in leading England to a remarkable test victory in India in Mumbai, 2006.
They also make no mention of the sacrifices he made to recover from three serious ankle operations or of his often colourful off the field antics.
But they do matter, and though Flintoff may not concede as much, or even believe in their importance whilst he is still playing, he may reflect in the future on a career somewhat unfulfilled should they begin to represent merely a "good," Test cricketer, rather than the "great," he undoubtedly is.
At 31, Flintoff is entering the twilight of his career. However, England fans, pundits and opposition players alike know that he is still the side’s most dangerous bowler, particularly now that his fitness seems less of an issue.
He is one of the game’s biggest superstars and one stat which might be of much greater interest to Flintoff in the short-term is the price he might fetch at the IPL player auction today.
But his priority remains playing for England and in particular, regaining the Ashes he so painfully surrendered as Captain in Australia in 2006.
Potentially, 2009 could be the beginning of another period when Flintoff produces his best form. Should his ankle problems finally be behind him, a consistent run in the side will assist both facets of his game as well as giving England the balance and depth he can provide.
Flintoff’s batting is based on feel and natural ability rather than a sound technique and past evidence suggests that the longer a run in the side he gets, the more consistent his scores will be.
He is also a much more confident player of seam bowling than spin, particularly early in his innings, and with England’s next 16 test matches being played against the West Indies, a Warne free Australia and away in South Africa, he has a great opportunity to once again cement his place at No. 6 in the batting order.
Should he do so, the game of cricket will once again have been greatly blessed.
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