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Ben Stokes: The new and improved Flintoff

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England fans will be forgiven for assuming they would never see anyone come close to the level of Andrew Flintoff again after he retired in 2009.

Flintoff's reign as captain of the national team may not have been as successful as he would have liked but 'Freddie' is still widely regarded as one of the best all-rounders England have ever produced.

So filling the shoes of someone who contributes so significantly in all aspects of the game, on such a regular basis - also a huge fan favourite - was never going to be an easy task and so it has proven.

However, eight years on since the Lancashire star's last appearance for his country, the wait for 'the new Flintoff' is finally over.

THE RISE OF BEN STOKES

Ben Stokes has been a mainstay in the England setup for the last few years but it hasn't always been that way.

Back in 2014, Stokes' form was so sketchy he wasn't even included in the squad for the 2015 World Cup.

He had reached double figures just twice in his previous ten ODI innings and missed out on what proved to be a disastrous tournament for Peter Moores' side.

It might not have been entirely his fault, though. England's approach to batting, in particular, was so heavily driven by data analysis all of their most dangerous batsmen had to refrain from playing their natural game.

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Unsurprisingly, the specific focus on when and where to go on the attack, when to retain wickets and when to shut up shop was ditched immediately after that competition. Stokes was brought back into the side and his development into the player he has become today was triggered.

All of a sudden, Stokes and co. were encouraged to be bold at the crease and use their obvious talent with the bat to blow teams away.

In the third ODI of the subsequent series against New Zealand, Stokes hit a brilliant 68 from just 47 balls. He was positive, powerful and exciting - this was the way he had to play from now on.

It was a crucial turning point for the 26-year-old and he hasn't looked back since with highlights being the 258 vs South Africa in 2015 and 6/36 against Australia just a few months later.

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So is he actually better than his illustrious predecessor Flintoff?

Flintoff certainly thinks so.

"I genuinely don’t think there is a comparison. He’s better than me. I’m not being humble here or playing myself down. I was decent, yes. But Ben Stokes can be another level. He needs to set his sights higher," he recently told the Daily Mail.

WHAT DO THE STATS SAY?

Before the fourth Test vs South Africa, the Durham man had scored more runs than Flintoff did from 35 Tests, at an average of 34.2 compared to Flintoff's 29.5 and also has scored two more centuries (5 vs 3) during that time too.

The One-Day format comparison between the two all-rounders follows a similar pattern too, with averages of 33.78 vs 32.01.

We've spoken a lot about Stokes' batting but his bowling has come on leaps and strides too.

Often thrown the old ball, Stokes has shown he has more than a few tricks up his sleeve to get big wickets, even when it looks like there isn't much in the pitch for the bowlers.

The New Zealand-born star's record compared to Flintoff adheres to that theory too.

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Flintoff was never a big fan of using data to dictate his performances and neither is Stokes.

The England ace is one of those players who just needs to feel the bat on ball or go through his bowling action once to know if he's in form.

At this point of his career, it is safe to say Ben Stokes has all of the attributes to become an all-time England great.

To achieve that status, though, he must be allowed to play his own game. There will be times he gets out cheaply or is a bit inconsistent with the ball but that shouldn't ever affect his approach because when Stokes gets it right, he is up there with the most influential players in the world.

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Topics:
Cricket
Kevin Pietersen
Joe Root
ODI World Cup
England cricket
T20 World Cup

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