Sunday, August 23, 2009

On the Greatness or Otherwise of Andrew Flintoff

There’s been a (slightly silly) debate on the sports pages of The Times about whether the now-retiring Freddie Flintoff counts as a “great” player. Peerless purple-proser Simon Barnes says yea, sensible crap-cutter Michael Atherton says nay.

Atherton’s argument is mostly based on Flintoff’s career stats, which are good, but not, well, great. I’m firmly with Barnes.

This ultimately comes down to whether you take a statistician’s or a more romatic 'sportsman’s' view of cricket (and probably, of sport or even life in general.) I'm a romantic: I barely remember dates, scores and tables, but I never forget the heroes and the villains. Yet if stats could tell the story of a match, it would be just as meaningful to watch it on a Teletext scorecard as in the flesh. Clearly it isn’t; stats are just one facet of the game and averages don’t win Test series or get you an MBE.

The 2009 Ashes proves this: the Aussies had all but one of the series’ top seven run scorers, and all of the top three wicket-takers. Yet they lost. Australia's Clarke and North finished with excellent batting averages, but so what?

Much more important than numbers are the key passages of play which swing matches and inspire teams, often come out of the blue and sometimes don’t show up at all in the stats. This time there were three: Collingwood, Anderson and Panesar manfully blocking out the unlikely draw at Cardiff; Flintoff’s five-wicket demolition job at Lord's; and Broad’s spell of bowling at the Oval on Friday.

Flintoff has been responsible for more of these key winning passages and more great moments than any other England player of this era and therefore he is indeed the ‘great’ player of his generation, whatever the stats might say.


monix said...

I'm with you - he's great!

Crinny said...

For me his greatness lies in that one moment recorded in the picture. Such kindness in the moment of victory makes him a great cricketer and a great human being.

PeterJ said...

That moment today when he ran out Ponting was as big a turning point in the match as Broad bowling him in the first innings. His influence on other players was also underlined by his absence at Headingley.

And you couldn't be righter about stats failing to tell the whole story.

David said...

Next can we argue about whether Jim Rice belongs in the Hall of Fame?

Brit said...

Sure, David, why not. I'll say... No, he shouldn't.

You know, you smart Americans should really get into Test cricket - if you can get excited about baseball, it would blow your mind (since baseball is like a homeopathic cricket - massively watered down.) Like Paul Getty did, or um... Allen Stanford. Yeah on second thoughts, don't worry about it.

Mark said...

Sorry to come over all contrarian, but Jim Ed is rightfully in the Hall of Fame. Phil Rizzuto on the other hand...

As for Flintoff, I'm with Atherton - who's probably a slightly better judge of cricketing ability than Simon Barnes. He's a 'great' sportsman and a 'great' character, but I can't honestly judge him a 'great' cricketer.

He's got an excellent PR team though!

Sean said...

We will know for sure in 20 or so years, if we can remember some of his performances and plays then he will have passed into greatness, I fancy we will.