Ben Stokes shined with both bat and ball against New Zealand © Getty Images
Ben Stokes shined with both bat and ball against New Zealand © Getty Images

Ben Stokes smashed New Zealand first with the bat and later with ball in hand in a Man of the Match-winning all-round performance at Lord’s. In doing so, Shiamak Unwalla feels he rekindled memories of another English all-rounder who lorded over the hearts of millions: Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff.

Freddie was a force of nature. His record is far from outstanding, but his sheer presence on the field was enough to offer England both hope and comfort. He may not have done it very often, but on his day Freddie could turn the match around with either bat or ball. ALSO READ: Andrew Flintoff: Protagonist in two of England’s Ashes triumphs

Just think back to The Ashes 2005, Flintoff’s crowning glory. Much like Ian Botham had done decades earlier, Flintoff almost single-handedly masterminded England to their first Ashes win in years. Every time the chips were down, Flintoff came up with a counter-attacking innings. Every time Michael Vaughan needed a breakthrough, big Freddie was the man to call. ALSO READ: Stokes plays two career-defining knocks against New Zealand

Ever since Flintoff’s retirement in 2009, England have searched their hearts out for a talismanic presence like his. Kevin Pietersen was one such player whose presence in the side unsettled the opposition; sadly, his presence was equally unsettling to the England dressing room. Where Flintoff was a unifying figure in the line-up, Pietersen was a divisive one.

With his performance at Lord’s in the first match of the English summer, Ben Stokes might just have answered the prayers of every fan of English cricket.

The comparisons are inevitable. Stokes is clearly an attacking batsman. The way he took on the New Zealand bowling on Day One — with England four down with nothing on the board — was reminiscent of Flintoff’s numerous counterattacks over the years.

Stokes did one better in the second innings, taking England from a defensive position to a match-winning one with the fastest hundred ever witnessed at Lord’s. Once again, the sheer audacity of Flintoff came to mind.

But Flintoff was so much more than a belligerent lower-order batsman; he was a bowler capable of sending down over after over of pure hellfire and venom. The way Stokes set up Kane Williamson on the final day was eerily similar to what Flintoff might have done: two brutal bouncers to loosen up perhaps the best batsman in the New Zealand line-up, followed by one just tantalising enough to induce the false shot.

And then there was that first ball to Brendon McCullum. If England were fearful of an early declaration, it was because New Zealand had the indomitable Baz waiting in the wings; a man who reduced bowlers to a laughing stock during ICC Cricket World Cup 2015; a man who scored a triple-century, two double-hundreds, and an almost impossible 195 in 2014.

Baz was shaping up to play an aggressive shot; you could tell he wanted to send his first ball back to Chennai as a souvenir. And Stokes bowled the most unplayable delivery of the match. It was fast, it came in sharply, and it shattered McCullum’s stumps; and with it, New Zealand’s chances of victory.

It is precisely these moments of magic that made Flintoff such a maverick. It is this brilliance that could make Stokes the man who will help England rise from the ashes of their own self-destruction, and help them win The Ashes they so desperately covet.

Freddie brought home The Ashes in 2005. A decade later, will his re-invoked spirit help Stokes do the same?

(Shiamak Unwalla, a reporter with CricketCountry, is a self-confessed Sci-Fi geek who loves cricket more than cricketers. His Twitter handle is @ShiamakUnwalla)