Ben Stokes was at it again in the second Test against South Africa, with the all-rounder starring in another England win - but where does he rank on our list of the great England all-rounders?
It doesn’t seem to be a game involving England’s cricket team anymore if Ben Stokes isn’t making the headlines for his exploits with bat, ball, or both. The England all-rounder was in sublime form against South Africa in the second Test as he starred in all facets of the game once again. A gritty 47 in the first innings helped to drag England to what seemed like an under-par first innings score of 269 before he was relatively quiet with the ball as he returned figures of 0/34.
However, with England going out to bat for the second time Stokes opened up. Stokes walked out with England sitting comfortably at 218/4 and took little time to get into his stride as he slammed an awesome 72 from 47 which included seven 4’s and three 6’s, with this score giving England valuable runs and time on the fifth day, something that proved vital in the end. His bowling was then invaluable on the final day as he made up for an injury to front-line bowler James Anderson as he steamed in for 23.4 overs returning figures of 3-35 as he accounted for the wickets of Dwaine Pretorius, Anrich Nortje and Vernon Philander, with the two former batsmen departing in the space of two balls. Clearly, this was once again Stokes’ Test, although it still seems incredible that this was not the best he has actually played in the last few months on a cricket field.
With Stokes’ exploits in mind, we have delved into the archives and, with a few heated debates between the team, we have come up with our top three English all-rounders, with our trio of players likely to make it into pretty much any current side such are their incredible abilities with bat and ball.
3. Andrew Flintoff
The man that really pushed cricket back into the public eye back in 2005 and the owner of perhaps the most incredible short spell of bowling in Ashes history, although there are some that might dispute this. Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff was a key member of the 2005 England side that finally ended decades of hurt as they wrestled the Ashes urn away from Australia for the first time since 1986/87, with victory coming against one of the great Australian outfits.
Flintoff was a man that could bowl in excess of 140kmph, with his aggressive spells of bowling accounting for a total of 226 wickets across a career that spanned incredible highs and plunging lows, with a 5-0 series whitewash in Australia in which he captained England during a particularly difficult time. His infamous antics with a pedalo caused his profile to increase further, but it is for his incredible spells with bat and ball that really make him a big name in cricket. Perhaps his greatest spell in cricket came with the ball against Australia as he tucked one of the greatest batsmen in Ricky Ponting up time and time again with some incredibly hostile bowling with the swinging ball before getting rid the Aussie captain caught behind to spark wild celebrations. Words simply don’t do that spell justice so you can check one of the most incredible overs in cricket by clicking on the video below.
As mentioned above, Flintoff boasts 226 wickets in Tests at an average of 32.78 along with an average of 31.07 with the bat along with five centuries and 26 half-centuries. While he may not go down as one of the great batsmen in the same bracket as Kevin Pietersen or Alastair Cook, Flintoff was incredibly dangerous with the willow in hand and capable of turning a match on it’s head at a moments notice, with power hitting and accurate shot placement making the all-rounder incredibly difficult to bowl at. Flintoff may have been dogged by some questionable antics off the field but on it he proved himself to be not just one of England’s greatest ever all-rounders, but one of their greatest ever cricketers.
Flintoff ? Kallis in 2008.
Drink it in. Nobody touches Freddie in this form.
— bettingpro (@bettingpro) 9 January 2020
2. Ben Stokes
The great English cricket player on the block right now, what a year or so Ben Stokes has had out in the middle. Stokes just continues to add to his own legend as he gets better and better with each game he plays. Stokes’ incredible 12 months really got underway with a very good performance in England’s World Cup opener against South Africa as he snared 2/12 with the ball before knocking 89 to take the game away from his opponents. However, that match will be remembered for his outrageous catch behind him to dismiss Andile Phelukwayo to kill the game off, with his effort enough to see more than one spectator behind him with their hands on their head, mouth open in complete shock.
This started off the tournament perfectly for Stokes and England with the all-rounder going on to notch 82 not out against Sri Lanka, 89 against Australia, and 79 against India before he played a match winning hand in England’s World Cup final against New Zealand as he dragged his side over the line with 84 not out before scoring eight from three in the super over. His antics in 50 over cricket were a huge reason as to why England won their first ODI World Cup and for many this would have been enough for one year, although Stokes clearly had different ideas.
Stokes went on to play a starring role in the 2019 Ashes series against Australia which England would go on to draw 2-2 in, with the touring side retaining the Ashes after the draw. However, this was not due to lack of trying from Stokes who kept the Ashes alive in the most incredible of circumstances in the third Test at Headingley. The Leeds crowd had probably expected to see Australia win the match and go 2-0 up in the series with two matches left to play after England were dismissed for an embarrassing score of 67 in their first innings. Stokes had other ideas though. The all-rounder batted out one of the most incredible innings in the history of cricket as he smashed his way to 135 not out, all the while keeping number 11 batsman Jack Leach off strike, as he guided England to a win that seemed impossible when they sat at 286/9, needing 73 to win with a single wicket in hand.
As mentioned at the start of the article, Stokes was up to his old tricks once again against South Africa as he blasted a quick fire score with the bat before taking the last three wickets of the game after an incredibly powerful burst. Of course, we are not just confining Stokes’ efforts to this and last year, indeed, his superb 258 against South Africa in Newlands in 2016 saw an incredible double hundred from just 198 balls that featured 30 4’s and 11 6’s as South Africa’s attack was taken to the cleaners. His eight centuries and 21 half-centuries come along with best bowling figures of 6/22 against West Indies at Lords’ in 2017 with his four five wicket hauls showing that he is a player of some talent with bat and ball. An OBE and the Sports Personality of the Year award for 2019 show that Stokes had some year with a World Cup triumph and what many dubbed as the greatest Test innings ever capping it all off. Stokes’ exploits against South Africa in the second test show he is not contented with being THE box office player in the world right now, you can bet he wants more.
1. Ian Botham
As good as Ben Stokes is, he still has some way to go before he can be seen wholly as England’s greatest ever all-rounder. Ian ‘Beefy’ Botham became a household name with his exceptional ability on the field matched by his personality off it. The all-rounder was able to couple an amazing ability to turn a game with bat or ball, with his hard hitting with the willow and swing bowling with the ball something that teams feared whenever and wherever they played against him.
The pinnacle of Botham’s ability and his career came in the 1981 Ashes as he smashed a run a ball 149 not out in the third Test along with a ridiculous five wickets for a single run in the fourth Test to somehow wrestle back the initiative from Australia and to turn the series on it’s head. Of course, like all good players, Botham was forced to play his greatest hands with England’s backs against the wall (proving that some things never change). Like Stokes, Botham was a man that was happy to go out and dig in when need be but he would often turn a gritty start into a superb counter-attack that would take the opposition by surprise and leave them reeling, wondering how the player had been able to go from a strike rate of under 10.00 to over a run a ball in double quick time.
A Test match runs haul of 5200 came along with 383 wickets with Botham, for a time, sitting as the highest wicket taker in Test cricket history. 14 100’s and 22 50’s show he was the go-to man for England but it is testament to both Stokes and Botham that, for the former, he is playing at such a high level that he is being seen in the same bracket as Botham, and for the latter, that he was so good that even the exploits of the World Cup final, Headingley, and the second Test in South Africa are not enough to see his legend out-done.
We feel that a few more years on this same trajectory will likely see Stokes eclipse Botham in the views of many. However, the exploits of the two have been such that England can definitely be put in the ranks of the greatest all-rounders ever and, even more important from an English point of view, their greatest moments have come in match-winning causes. With the help of Jos Buttler, Stokes was able to carry England to a World Cup triumph while he was incredible against South Africa in early 2020 and his innings against Australia in the third Ashes Test was utterly breathtaking. For Botham, his innings against the Aussies in the third Ashes Test in 1981 was quickly followed by one of the most miserly and dangerous bowling spells in the fourth Test and all have gone on to see England to a victory in one way or another.
Regardless of who is the best, England’s cricket fans have been treated to three great all-rounders across the years but at just 28-years-old, Stokes has more than enough time to see his own legend eclipse any other all-rounder, let alone Botham and Flintoff.