Importance of Flintoff not measurable by statistics

Have you ever seen anyone looked quite so knackered as Andrew Flintoff at the end of the 3rd test against the West Indies? Carrying a debilitating hip injury, he continued to hammer in, bowling 13 overs in the last day, every ball followed by a grimace of pain which almost radiated his discomfort through the television screen to the viewer. You felt every bit of pain and emotion just watching it.

Freddie giving his all, but at what cost?

Did England overbowl him? Should they have held off from using him keeping one eye on the longer-term view, the potential repercussions of what they were asking of him? He has a history of injury and more worryingly a record of struggling to shake off injuries, often taking longer than anticipated to recover.

That England did bowl him so much is evidence firstly of how much they wanted to win this match, to really erase the memories of Sabina Park; secondly of how reliant their bowling attack is on their all-rounder. They genuinely believed that they would struggle to take the wickets they needed without Flintoff. They would still have a four-man bowling attack, not an unusual occurrence for international teams, but Flintoff is the talisman, the core of the group.

There has rarely been a sportsman to whom bare statistics do so little justice as Flintoff. He has not really been good enough for a test number six for some years now (since 2006) but his bowling is as consistent as anyone’s. Extraordinarily, he only has 2 five wicket hauls in his career but if wickets were measured in importance rather than quantity, we would see a quite different story. It is to him that the ball is thrown when wickets are urgently needed. He has got the better of some top players, his quietening of Adam Gilchrist in 2005 was instrumental in England’s success. He rarely bowls a bad over, let alone a bad spell, demonstrating a huge level of consistency.

Flintoff applies pressure to a batsman and often he can take plenty of credit for the wickets of others. Stuart Broad, James Anderson and Steve Harmison all have their moments but struggle for consistency and have been known to be expensive. There would be a severe risk of an innings getting away from them, a run rate escalating and crucial momentum being lost. With Flintoff there however, this is considerably less likely to happen. Flintoff can consistently apply pressure and can swing matches in England’s favour, not necessarily by taking wickets but by changing the momentum, course and atmosphere of a game.

With all this in mind, every effort possible must be made to make sure he does not play in the IPL. He is a man of integrity and has a contract to honour but it would be wrong and would diminish him in the eyes of many to put his appearance in the Ashes at risk. At the same time, can you begrudge him a monstrously big paycheque, particularly at this stage of a career which, given recent injuries, may not have much longer to run? Money or glory? Only Freddie can answer that question.

We can only hope that Flintoff’s injury is not serious because the England bowling attack looks considerably more toothless without him. While statistics have not been kind to him, there can be no doubt of his importance to the team, especially in the bowling. His batting probably is only good enough to be a test number 7 now but with the ball he is up there with the very best.

By Stuart Peel

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