When Ben Stokes picked up the man of the match at Lord’s on Monday, the names Flintoff and Botham were being thrown around, but it wasn’t just for the cricketing comparison.
When we think Botham and Flintoff, there is a attachment to their individual success, and to them as characters.
It transcends generations, to the point that even young fans that never saw one or either of them, make the comparison.
In other words, they become sporting icons in a theatre of dreams.
With Freddie especially, there was always another side to these sporting heroes.
Yes we saw them as having superhuman powers, but we also saw them as just ordinary blokes. They were fun, fallible, human and when they made mistakes, we kind of understood a little more.
Importantly, when they made mistakes, they could always make up for it in sheer ability.
No matter how bleak the situation, Freddie would get us out. Beefy would find a way, and then they’d hit the pub.
Compared to Andrew Strauss who could have been a member of Parliament, or Kevin Pietersen, who perhaps could have been in a boyband – ‘Freddie’ was just your average a ‘fat lad’ from Lancashire.
Now, It may seem trivial, but it is also highly important not to underestimate the value of ordinariness. It was not only his batting and bowling that won Test matches, but his personality was hugely enfranchising. It got people on side.
It got people watching, playing cricket, queueing up for hours to get in, and most importantly; it got it onto the front and back pages.
Cricket became popular, because it was something people could tap into.
Ben Stokes walks out onto the field with spiky ginger hair, he is tenacious, clearly absurdly talented – but also a bit of a hothead. Nobody is quite sure whether he’ll smash an 80 ball century, pick a fight with the opposition, or be dismissed in the silliest of ways.
And that is why people watch sport.
It was commented upon by numerous observers during the last Test, just how hard this guy hits the ball. It is almost like he is using a slab of marble. That is the spine of the Flintoff comparison on cricketing criteria. But when he gets the ball, he also seems to try his heart out.
He bowled exceptionally well in the first innings at Lord’s but was wicketless. Come the second innings, his two wickets in two balls, Williamson and McCullum; took England on to another level. Twice in the game, he changed its course, and it put the team on cloud nine.
He is a kind of player that makes things happen, but like Freddie, it will never just be about ability. He latter will of course be remembered for his Ashes displays, but also for his fallible human antics, including his drinking, for the pedalo incident, for his early career slacking, and no doubt other misdemeanours.
If one casts their minds back to 2013, Stokes’ misdemeanours have already begun, and we all look on at this rising star, as a potential new Flintoff in this regard too.
He was sent home alongside Matt Coles from an England A tour, for consistent late night drinking.
In 2014, Ben Stokes broke his hand after punching a locker, putting him out of the World twenty 20.
In the West Indies, he was consistently the one player that was being confrontational with the opposition – and in particular Marlon Samuels; which was never nasty, but noticeable.
Nobody wants dour cricket played by ECB prototypes 1-11 – but there must be a recognition that a talismanic and highly individualistic and exciting player, will sometimes be hard to control.
Despite being only 23, he has already taken risks – on and off the pitch.
He has already stunned crowds and won matches.
He is on a learning curve and will no doubt, just like Flintoff, continue to cross swords with authorities. But there is no doubt that his talent should lead to to substantial success.
Stokes needs to find that crucial balance between being a talisman on the pitch, whilst not letting it get the better of him.
Flintoff managed too nearing the end of his Test career, and it eventually even led to captaincy.
Stokes is a phenomenal player with the capacity to lift and even carry his team. But he is also a flight risk, if he can’t handle his own ego.