Flintoff in reach of Botham's all-round brilliance

Of course, comparisons can be both dangerous and meaningless. It has been the accepted wisdom for some time that it would be ludicrous and unfair to compare Andrew Flintoff with Ian Botham. Yet over the last year, with each game he plays, Flintoff has been creeping closer and closer to England's most remarkable all-rounder since the Second World War.

Of course, comparisons can be both dangerous and meaningless. It has been the accepted wisdom for some time that it would be ludicrous and unfair to compare Andrew Flintoff with Ian Botham. Yet over the last year, with each game he plays, Flintoff has been creeping closer and closer to England's most remarkable all-rounder since the Second World War.

In the three Tests played in the present series against the West Indies, Flintoff has got so close to Botham that he is treading painfully upon his tail. His 58 in the second innings at Lord's was an innings in the Botham vein, as were the three wickets he took at the end of the West Indies' first innings, although he originally came into the side for that match as a batsman because of an injured heel. He then picked up the ball and lo and behold.

At Edgbaston, in the second Test, his 167 in England's first innings was dramatically Bothamesque, as were the dismissals of Brian Lara and Ramnaresh Sarwan when they were taking the West Indies' first innings away from England. At Old Trafford he dismissed them both again in the first innings and in the second surprised Lara with a fierce lifter, picking up three crucial wickets in all. He will be after him again at the Oval.

But it was at a tricky stage in England's second innings that he really seemed to have reinvented Botham. England were 111 for 3 when Michael Vaughan was surprised by the lift that off-spinner Chris Gayle found with the first ball he bowled. With Graham Thorpe nursing a broken finger, another wicket then would have put the West Indies in the pound seats.

But Flintoff immediately imposed a calming authority on proceedings. He on-drove Gayle for a single to get off the mark, thumped Dwayne Bravo away to the legside boundary and when Fidel Edwards came bounding in for another spell, Flintoff swivelled and hooked him between deep square leg and fine leg for four. They were not only punishing strokes, but each one also brought with it a significant shift of psychological advantage.

When Gayle then dropped one a fraction short, Flintoff moved back and, swaying away to leg to give himself a fraction more room, drove it sumptuously off the back foot to the cover boundary. At tea, England were 146 for 3 and Flintoff had made 22 of the partnership of 35 with Robert Key in 35 balls. It was magnificent and calculated batting by a player who has matured remarkably over the last 12 months.

On an awkward, wearing pitch he went for his strokes but never took undue risks. The sheer certainty about his batting must have been deeply disheartening for his opponents.

He injected some of the spirit and assurance in his batting to his partner, who played an innings that was more meaningful, as far as his future is concerned, than the 221 he made at Lord's.

As for Flintoff, one can only dream of a single-wicket contest between him and Botham, and the bookmakers would not know who to make the favourite.

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