When you hear the name Andrew Flintoff, the first year that comes to mind is 2005, and specifically the Ashes, when the all-rounder was awarded the Compton-Miller Medal for his starring role in helping England get their hands on the urn for the first time in 18 years.
However, while Flintoff was vital to England’s efforts that series, it was the year before when he could truly claim to not just being the best all-round cricketer in the world, but to having had one of the greatest single years any cricketer has had, ever.
No player has ever scored more Test runs in a single year than Flintoff’s 898 and taken more wickets than Flintoff’s 43 in 2004 with a greater positive difference between their batting and bowling average, often taken as a statistical measure of an all-rounder’s worth. Flintoff averaged 52.82 with the bat and 25.76 with the ball in that year, a staggering difference of 27.05.
His average difference in ODIs that year was even greater, 36.23, with Flintoff averaging 57.54 with the bat, making all three of his career ODI hundreds, and 21.31 with the ball. While there are two players who have scored more runs and taken more wickets in a calendar year with a better average difference – Lance Klusener in 1999 and Sachin Tendulkar in 1998 – it was his white-ball exploits that had Wisden Cricket Monthly magazine editor Jo Harman waxing lyrical on the latest episode of the Wisden Cricket Weekly Podcast.
“With Flintoff, I did recall, but not quite how good it was, his unbelievable performance in 2004, looking back on that year as a whole,” said Jo. “He’s arguably the best one-day player in the world at that stage.”
For WCM editor-in-chief Phil Walker, it was a century near-miss for Flintoff that really stood out.
“That 99 he made at The Oval [against India]… He hit the ball straight up in the air for his 100th run and just strolled off giggling, smiling when the ball was still in the air,” said Phil. “There was that glimpse of this young lad you’d heard about but hadn’t seen yet. That was the summer where it just exploded for the bloke. We all started to fall in love with him around them.”