And so the search for a new Flintoff begins…
In the wake of England’s Ashes triumph over Australia, a huge question awaits…can England find a replacement for Andrew Flintoff?
He has been the scourge of the opposition for so long. His importance was underlined in this series where despite being half-fit he managed to knock over the tourists at Lord’s to claim five wickets and even ran out Australian captain Ricky Ponting at the Oval (which he said on Monday was probably the first time he’s ever run somebody out).
Flintoff (79 tests, 3,845 runs, 226 wickets) has been the heartbeat of the England team over the past five years and his departure will leave a gaping hole in the setup.
Nevertheless, the biggest mistake England and the media could make would be to conduct a search for the ‘next Andrew Flintoff’.
The previous talisman for England, Ian Botham (102, 5,200, 383), retired in 1992 and immediately a number of all-rounders were built up as the ‘next Ian Botham’, much to the ire of former England captain Michael Atherton back in 2001.
Phil Defreitas, Chris Lewis, Craig White and Dominic Cork came and went in the 90s, but not until Flintoff made his debut in 1998 did England recognise a potential player in the ilk of Botham.
However, not until 2004 did Flintoff really begin displaying match-winning prowess with both bat and ball, and at his peak in the 2005 Ashes series the Englishman was an unstoppable force.
Let this be a lesson of caution to those who expect a ready-made replacement.
Stuart Broad (767 runs and 64 wickets from 22 tests) has caught the eye in the last two tests, but let’s not forget he was ineffective in the first three matches of the series and has yet to prove durability with the bat and enough variety with the ball to trouble world class batsmen.
The good news is he is only 23, and should be kept in the side to build up confidence ahead of the 2010-11 Ashes series in Australia.
Graeme Swann, while not a paceman and by no means a spring chicken, is another vital cog with bat and ball in this current England team and will be key for future tours to Asia where turning pitches are the norm.
On the fringe of the setup are 21-year-old spinner Adil Rashid and seamer Tim Bresnan, both competent with a piece of willow in their hands though on current form , Rashid should get the nod ahead of Bresnan and may figure for England’s four-test tour to the number one-ranked test side South Africa from November-January.
The 2-1 Ashes result left the Australians scratching their heads and the home supporters happy as larry, but there is plenty of work left to do for this current England side. A patient approach would be the best one.
PHOTO: Andrew Flintoff of England celebrates taking the wicket of Ricky Ponting of Australia with a runout throw during the fifth Ashes test cricket match at The Oval in London August 23, 2009. REUTERS/Toby Melville