Monday, June 04, 2007

Flintoff: over-rated as a bowler?

There's an interesting article in this week’s Sunday Times, by Simon Wilde. I have only just red it because I’m ill, and still moping about at home in a dressing gown. You read much more slowly when wearing a dressing gown.

It analyses the over-all impact of England’s five-bowler strategy, compared to a four-bowler attack. Intriguingly, we have lost only lost 30% of our games when fielding four bowlers, whereas when we play five, we lose 34% of the time. What Wilde doesn’t say, however, is that the all-rounder results in a 43% victory rate, whereas four bowlers give the same percentage. So Flintoff doesn’t win us any more games, but we lose more when playing him.

Putting my statistician's hat on, and considering the sample size (the 110 tests since Flintoff’s debut) I doubt whether these findings are statistically significant. But what the cool blue numbers show is that Flintoff has a minimal impact on the game over the long term. Sure, a brilliant spell or innings can swing a session in England’s favour, but in terms of a consistent success for his team his influence is hard to detect.

There is something innately impressive about an all-rounder – doing two things at international level is amazing. Naturally, we expect less of an all-rounder: lower averages are the norm, because they make two contributions. They also give depth to the bowling. But is this, in itself, sufficient?

Looking at Flintoff’s record isn’t exactly inspiring. Omar shows that, except for one purple patch, he has rarely averaged over 30 in tests. Here’s a table outlining his bowling in test matches.

Flintoff’s bowling

Again, apart from a single period 2004 and 2005, his average has never been below 33. He has never taken more than eight wickets in a match. Interestingly, he has only achieved two five-fers, both during the 2004/5 purple patch. Since this period, his statistical form has tailed off.

Undoubtedly, he was a class player, but it remains to be seen how potent he is nowadays. It seems to be a universally accepted fact that his batting has been below par. Now, with a new series of operations and serious question marks in the rest of the attack, we must seriously examine Flintoff’s impact on the game.

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