by Roderick Easdale, author of England's Greatest All-Rounder.
Durham all-rounder Ben Stokes has provided a rare glimmer of optimism on England's calamitous current Ashes tour. Whereas the established players have failed, this 22 year old, who was not in the side at the start of the series, has now scored England's only century thus far.
English post-war cricket has regularly sought the next world-class all-rounder. The new Ian Botham was a constant quest for the media. Before that it had been Trevor Bailey who England wanted a successor for; lately it has been Flintoff. The odd one out was Tony Greig, as Botham slipped straight into his shoes so his successor was ready-made.
Based upon his two games so far, Stokes career is more Botham than Flintoff. Botham also hit the ground running. By April 1980, aged 24, Botham had played 25 test matches in which he scored six centuries and took 139 wickets.
The obit for a cricket career that had ended then would have been of the greatest cricketers of all time, maybe the greatest of all time, cut down before he could enter his prime. As it was, the drama of the 1981 Ashes apart, Botham's career went into a steady decline. In his last six years in test cricket he reached a half-century once - a 51 not out - and took 17 wickets.
Like Stokes, Flintoff was originally picked on potential more than achievement. Flintoff's seventh first-class game was for England's second team; his 15th was his test debut. Flintoff's potential took a long time to materialise. Five years into his test career he had taken only 34 wickets. In his first dozen tests his top score was only 42.
Maybe we should be hoping that Stokes is not the new Botham or Flintoff but the new Greig? Greig is not greatly revered but his record, examined properly, is excellent. I realised just how impressive it really is when I was asked by the publishers Endeavour to write an e-book assessing England's greatest post-war all-rounders, subsequently published as England's Greatest All -Rounder.
As with Stokes, many critics were keen to point out Greig's deficiencies of batting technique and limitations as a bowler, but despite this Greig made centuries all round the world on all types of surfaces against top-quality attacks. He also took five wickets in a innings half a dozen times in his 58 tests - Flintoff in comparison did this three times in 79 matches. If Stokes, like Greig, was to be consistently good throughout his career, and to end it with a batting average of 40 and a bowling one of 32 England's fans would be delighted. And my book would have to be revised.
Roderick Easdale is the author of England's Greatest All-Rounder.