Two great overs, two different approaches: why Anderson-Flintoff comparisons need to stop

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England’s superb victory over India in the first Test will go down in memory for a host of reasons. Foremost among these was the over bowled by Jimmy Anderson on the morning of the final day. England’s greatest ever bowler put on a masterclass of reverse swing bowling, all his experience and mastery of line and length on full show. In the space of those six balls, Shubman Gill and Ajinkya Rahane were back in the pavilion and India were almost dead and buried at 92–4.

Comparisons between Anderson’s effort and Freddie Flintoff’s over from 2005 were swiftly drawn. BBC Sport went so far as launching a poll to decide which is better. However, I would argue that such a step is unnecessary. We don’t need to know which is the best and crucially we can’t know, because so many different factors were in play.

What we can do, however, is appreciate how the two overs demonstrate just how much variation in approach can exist in Test cricket, and how going about the game in your own way can still yield results.

In the footage from 2005 – a series so legendary that even the advertising boards and players’ kit carry an air of semi-mystique – Flintoff seems to strain every sinew during his approach to the crease, heaving himself over to send the ball clattering into Justin Langer and Ricky Ponting. Anderson, in contrast, glides to the crease, and the main word that springs to mind when watching him is supple.

His deliveries, particularly the wicket-taking ones, are supple too. They bend through the air, past the probing efforts of Gill and Rahane – who may as well be standing at square leg. In both cases, the batsmen’s stumps are sent cartwheeling with a satisfying crack.

We don’t need to know which is the best and crucially we can’t know, because so many different factors were in play.

Their reactions were telling too. Gill held his pose, as if though by not moving the reality of his dismissal might not come about. Rahane looked back at his stumps, then back at Anderson, as though needed to see evidence of the dislodged bails to confirm what he knew. Both were the reactions of batsmen who have been well and truly got out; by that I mean their dismissal was not down to a rash shot or poor defence, but the pure mastery of the bowler.

Flintoff’s finest moments came in 2005 – as both batsman and bowler. Because of this, he is a player you remember through images, whether that is him heaving the ball for six through the legside, kneeling down to console Brett Lee, or standing with arms aloft after getting another Australian scalp.

In the second ball of his famous over, he got Justin Langer with a leg cutter that bounced off the batsman’s elbow, and after four more vicious deliveries to an increasingly uncomfortable Ricky Ponting, got the Aussie skipper to flap outside off and nick through to Geraint Jones. There is something less subtle about Flintoff’s over – it is undoubtedly skilful, but it has a brutal edge to it that the craft and guile of Anderson’s six balls do not.

Both players are and will be remembered for far more than a single over. In the future, though, as we try to explain how great these players were to the next generation of fans, we will turn to these two overs. They encapsulate the considerable abilities of the two players – one great and one very great – who found approaches that worked for them, and have left indelible marks on the game.

Image: nic_r via Creative Commons

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