When England vice-captain Ben Stokes ripped through South Africa’s top order with two wickets in successive deliveries on Sunday, Stuart Broad likened the ferocity of the spell to one of Andrew Flintoff’s in his prime.
Debate has since raged over who is the better player. For me, they are pretty equal as all-rounders but also slightly different. Stokes will always be a batting all-rounder, whereas Flintoff was a better bowler than batsman.
At the peak of his powers, Flintoff was the best bowler in the world; he bowled 92mph plus, was at you every ball and the angle of delivery made things so difficult. During the iconic 2005 Ashes series a lot of Australia’s batsmen hated facing Freddie.
As a bowler, Stokes doesn’t have the pace of Flintoff or his height and I doubt he will ever get to the levels Freddie did. Stokes, who has taken 86 wickets in 35 Test matches, still struggles with inconsistency and tends to pull away with his action.
There are also quite often spells where he concedes 10 runs or so in his first few balls which allows the opposition to get away. That said, when he is hitting his line and length and getting his pace up he can be devastating.
The 26-year-old has three five-fors for England, the same number as Flintoff, who took a total of 226 wickets in his 79 Tests, and I’m sure he will continue to work on the areas he needs to.
If he can improve those inconsistencies, he will be a better overall cricketer than Flintoff. I say that because Stokes a better batsman than Freddie. He already has equalled Flintoff’s tally of five Test centuries and is just more consistent with the bat.
When Stokes isn’t getting big runs, he is scoring rapidly, which moves the game along and is an invaluable skill. He does play the odd iffy shot but that’s the way he is – he attacks – and the way he’s been brought up.
He’s like Kevin Pietersen in the sense he can take the game away from the opposition very quickly and you wouldn’t want him to change. We were also reminded on Monday what an exceptional slip catcher, particularly off Moeen Ali, and fielder Stokes is.
Whatever the arguments about who is better, Stokes and Flintoff make and made things happen, they are and were match-winners, special players. Both have talents which not many others have.
When some players are putting their heads down, the likes of Stokes and Flintoff will always be ready for the fight, ever-willing to put their hands up to win or save a game.
They were also both good players to have in the dressing room. I played a bit with Freddie at the start of my career when changing room culture was a little different; things were done in a more relaxed way.
He was a joyful sort, the figurehead of the side and a bit of a Jack the Lad character, on and off the field. He was always fun to have around but when the team needed him he would be there.
At times he probably came across as not taking things too seriously but, as we’ve seen since he’s retired, he thought about the game a lot more than he made out.
I only went on one tour with Stokes – the 2013-14 Ashes – but what I saw there and have heard since is he too is a lot of fun. Him and Joe Root are the cheeky chappies of the team. Like Flintoff, Stokes is a class character.