What makes an England all-rounder great?

The recent performances of Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali have inevitably led to comparisons with England’s previous all-round heroes. In particular, it’s hard not to see the similarities between Stokes and his predecessors, Andrew Flintoff and Sir Ian Botham. Like Stokes, they had the ability to bowl above 90mph and smash the ball out of the ground. These are alluring qualities for an all-rounder.

Batting average minus bowling average for England allrounders.

Flintoff recently suggested that Stokes is better than him already. Statistically, he may have a point. As shown in the above graph, it took Flintoff 50 test matches for his batting average to match his bowling average. In contrast, both Stokes and Ali are approaching parity after their 36th and 41st test, respectively. Freddie peaked in the latter half of his career, so if Stokes and Ali were to do the same, they could end up rivaling Botham and, the lesser mentioned, Tony Grieg as England’s greatest all-rounder.

In addition to looking at batting and bowling averages, we also compared each players number of 5 wicket hauls, centuries and catches per match (as we did in our previous post). Similarly, it seems Stokes is statistically superior to his predecessor at this stage of his career. Curiously, our analysis also suggests that Tony Greig was England’s best all-round player! Indeed, Grieg didn’t place below 2nd in any of the 5 categories. He did only play 58 tests compared to Botham’s 102, however. At this stage of his career, Sir Ian was averaging 37 with the bat and 25 with the ball.

Nevertheless, it’s interesting that he is rarely mentioned alongside Botham in the annals of all-round greats. What’s most impressive about Grieg is that he seemed to reserve his best performances for the great West Indies side of the 1970’s (3 of his hundreds and 5 wicket hauls came against them). This is proof that he had the character to match his fine statistics. Perhaps, for reasons mentioned above, we more fondly remember the fast bowling all-rounders.

Of course, statistics don’t always tell the whole story. For instance, I always thought that Flintoff was better than his stats suggested (a point echoed in an excellent piece by @thefulltoss). He is often quick to downplay his career, but he was without doubt an England great.

Emotion has to factor in when discussing the greats of the game. For me, Freddy was the player I couldn’t wait to see bowl or bat. He was the sort of player who could change a game in an instant. The above stats do not take into account that spell against Ponting, the brutal onslaught of batting against Brett Lee, or the bullet arm to run out Ponting in 2009. These were all big moments in big games. Freddie was your man for those moments.

So, what makes an England all-rounder great then? Certainly, statistics help. But as we have seen it is not enough to rely solely on impressive numbers. A quality one must have is the ability to consistently flourish in the high-pressure moments. It also seems to help if you possess a particularly aggressive style and/or personality. I hope Moeen bucks the trend with the latter!

Regardless of the final order of England’s best all-rounders, they will likely have two in the same team for many years to come. This is a very exciting prospect indeed.

Let us know who was your favourite all-rounder.