This is Part 4 of a series in which two different cricketers are paired who could easily be mistaken for siblings in the way they went about their game. Read on for more on the soul-siblings of the gentleman's game!
In this episode, Arunabha Sengupta writes about Chris Cairns and Andrew Flintoff - the two men related by exploits of willow, leather, promise, injury and indiscipline.
Hailing from small island nations in two hemispherical extremes, they strode the cricket grounds peering down from great heights, with builds that would have fitted seamlessly in rugby scrums.
Both lent sparks of stardom to respective teams of able yet nondescript professionals. Both bowled fast medium, at times stepping across the fuzzy limiting line into the realms of the seriously quick, with surprising vim, vigour and viciousness. At the same time, both could hit the ball many, many a mile, often with the straightest of bats.
Wisden cricketers of two different years, they sent expectant heartbeats shooting up with simmering talent that overflowed from all departments of their games. Yet, their individual cricketing journeys were traced under giant shadows of legendary knighted predecessors of their two nations. Additionally, there were pitfalls of discipline and painful bumps of injuries. Finally both left the scene while at the prime of their powers, still wading knee-deep in refreshing ripples of small successes, while the vast oceans of promise remained unchartered.
Chris Cairns added a streak of flame to both his gelled locks and the faceless New Zealand side, but suffered unavoidable comparisons with the enormous looming benchmark of Sir Richard Hadlee. During moments when fitness and inspiration remained faithful, he looked the finest of all-rounder walking the planet, with the ability to turn games and win hearts with equal ease armed with either willow or leather. But conflicts with authority and problems with fitness stopped him way short of the peaks to which his exploits had fired fervent imaginations.
Likewise Andrew Flintoff metamorphosed the English interest in the game from elitist to mass-ive, sometimes even upstaging the fanaticism for football, by becoming the much-needed poster boy amidst a collection of steady performers. Yet, he was weighed on unfortunate scales, on one side of which rested the imposing form of Sir Ian Terrence Botham. When counselling and calorie control worked for him, he flashed across as nearly the leading cricketer of the world. Yet, initial attitude problems and later rebellions by various body parts led to premature retirement with the career graph a small fractal of what might have been.
Both men had their brushes with greatness. Cairns demolished the West Indians with a quick-fire 72 followed by seven for 27 at Hamilton, 1999; while in the second Test of the famed Ashes battle of 2005, Flintoff scored 68 and 73 and took seven wickets as the Australians were defeated by an agonising two runs.
In One-Day Internationals, both will be correlated in memory with the dashed dreams of Sourav Ganguly – Cairns with 102 in the final of the inaugural ICC Champions Trophy in Nairobi, and Flintoff with his final over at Wankhede followed by ecstatic and historic use of menswear.
Criticised often for failing to do justice to their potential, both nevertheless completed the rare all-rounder’s double of 3,000 runs and 200 wickets, each becoming only the second man to do so from his country – following the famous footsteps of Richard Hadlee and Ian Botham, those very trend setters whose shadows forever hovered over their careers like canopies.
With the bat, both scored five Test hundreds and with the ball took four wickets in an innings on 11 occasions. While Cairns did go on to take five-fors with more regularity, and ended with marginally better averages in both the areas of specialisation, Flintoff bettered him in both respects in ODIs.
And when they briefly took the reins of their sides in their adventurous hands, the crown on responsibilities seldom rested easy on their mercurial heads.
However, the lasting recollection and everlasting awe for these buccaneering cricketers will be associated with those gigantic sixes. Cairns once hit Shane Warne out of the attack at Basin Reserve by launching him several times into the adjoining street. Flintoff struck Makhaya Ntini at The Oval and the ball was still rising as it thudded into the Bedser Stand. Cairns ended his Test career with 87 sixes and Flintoff 82 – an accumulation of free-stroking abandon that remains perhaps unmatched in recent times. Their lasting contributions in that dimension that makes or breaks spectator sports – pure unbridled excitement.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)