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Last Updated: Sunday, 7 August 2005, 16:39 GMT 17:39 UK
Move over Botham
By Martin Gough

England need look no further for a new Ian Botham. They have Andrew Flintoff instead.

No longer do fans need to hark back to 1981, and the series universally known as Botham's Ashes, for an instance when an English player had such a single-handed influence on the Ashes.

Inspired by Flintoff's man-of-the-match performance - with innings of 68 and 73 plus seven wickets - England came from behind to level an Ashes series for the first time since then.

With 'Freddie' as their talisman, the team are demonstrably showing the belief that they can win English cricket's holy grail.

"To beat Australia you need to have a good team performance but you also need individual brilliance," said captain Michael Vaughan.

"Freddie Flintoff in this match has been outstanding for us."

In many ways the hunt for a new Botham is just about over, although it is only Test match two out of five
David Gower
Flintoff's second innings achievements were all the more astounding as he batted on despite injuring his left shoulder early on.

David Gower, the last England captain to win the Ashes on home soil in 1985, could only marvel at the performance.

"That was one of the bravest performances I've seen," he told BBC Radio Five Live's Sportsweek programme.

"You could see he was hampered through the afternoon. To play with that handicap was extraordinary."

Even before Botham ended his storied international career in 1992, England were on the lookout for possible replacements.

Conservative estimates put at 11 the number of players who were expected to star with both bat and ball, only to fall short in one or both departments. Any advances on David Capel?

BOTHAM v FLINTOFF
Botham:
102 Tests, 5,200 runs, average 33.5, high 208, 14x100, 20x50, 383 wkts, ave 28.4, 27x5w, 4x10w
116 ODIs, 2,113 runs, average 23.2, high 79, 9x50, 145 wkts, ave 28.5
Flintoff:
49 Tests, 2383 runs, average 32.6, high 167, 4x100, 16x50, 130 wkts, ave 32.8, 1x5w
90 ODIs, 2313 runs, average 34.5, high 123, 3x100, 14x50, 96 wkts, ave 24.6
Flintoff was marked out as yet another candidate when he made his Lancashire debut as a 17-year-old in 1995, moving into the England side three summers later.

Not only could he bowl fast and hit the ball hard but he was a similar character to 'Beefy' Botham -down-to-earth, plain-speaking but most importantly larger-than-life.

But it is only in the last three years that he has matured as a consistent threat both with bat and ball.

His early career was dogged by criticism that he enjoyed a "chips and lager" lifestyle, was overweight and injury-prone as a result.

Occasional flashes of individual brilliance with the bat only became an integral part of the team effort in 2003, when he stepped up to fill the void at number six left by Alec Stewart's retirement.

His bowling was often hostile and testing but big Test match hauls are a new phenomenon for Flintoff, with his first and so far only five-wicket return coming in Barbados 16 months ago.

Even now, his career total of 130 wickets is well short of Botham's England record 383, even though with 2383 from 49 Tests he is on course to rival Beefy's 5,200 runs from 102.

How would Gower compare the player he captained to the one he now commentates on?

NOT THE NEW BOTHAM
Phil DeFreitas, 44 Tests, batting ave 14.82, bowling ave 33.57
David Capel, 15 Tests, batting ave 15.5, bowling ave 50.6
Chris Lewis, 32 Tests, bat 23.0, bowl 37.5
Dermot Reeve, 3 Tests, bat 24.8, bowl 30.0
Mark Ealham, 8 Tests, bat 21.0, bowl 28.7
Dominic Cork, 37 Tests, bat 18.0, bowl 29.8
Craig White, 30 Tests, bat 24.4, bowl 37.6
Adam Hollioake, 4 Tests, bat 10.8, bowl 33.5
Ben Hollioake, 2 Tests, bat 11.0, bowl 49.7
Ronnie Irani, 3 Tests, bat 17.2, bowl 37.
Gavin Hamilton, 1 Test, bat 0.0, no wkts
"We like to shy away from the comparison because you don't want to have to label one player with the name of another," he said.

"Yes, is the simple answer because he has that same sort of spirit - cheerful, happy-go-lucky, and very good."

Amazingly, Flintoff had never played a Test against Australia before this summer.

After a mediocre debut against South Africa, he was left out of the touring party in 1998/99.

Stress fractures in his back forced him to remodel his bowling action in the Ashes summer of 2001 and he was flown home from the 2002/03 tour after an unsuccessful rehabilitation from hernia surgery.

On that last trip, the Aussie press marvelled that the loss of a man with a batting average of 19.48 and a bowling mark of 47.15 could be so damaging.

Those figures were already a lot better by the time this series began.

Now Flintoff has shown just what he is capable of against the best side in the world, something Botham arguably failed to do against the West Indies teams of the 1980s.

"In many ways the hunt for a new Botham is just about over, although it is only Test match two out of five," said Gower.

"There are three more games to come and at the end of that we'll know whether we've had another Botham's Ashes."

We already know, though, that Freddie Flintoff is the biggest thing since Botham in English cricket.




WATCH AND LISTEN
News conference: England all-rounder Andrew Flintoff



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