Ben Stokes performed further heroics in an England shirt to guide his team to victory over the West Indies. It has been a familiar tale for the all-rounder over the last year, producing brilliance out in the middle to secure the World Cup for the Three Lions for the first time along with a famous win over Australia in the 2019 Ashes at Headingley.
Stokes’ flame was almost extinguished in disgrace after an off-the-field incident in 2017, missing an Ashes’ series in Australia as a result. However, he has bounced back in perfect fashion to fulfil his potential as the best all-rounder in world cricket.
At the age of 29, there is ample time for Stokes to enhance his legacy even further, looking ahead to the next Ashes series down under where England are considered the underdogs in the cricket betting odds at 11/4 as of July 21 to regain the urn. It would be a fitting way to cap his renaissance by being the driving force behind the Three Lions’ first victory in Australia, where they’ve notoriously struggled on their last two visits.
Sir Ian Botham is perhaps the finest cricketer ever produced by England. He excelled in both formats of the game and was ahead of his time with his swashbuckling style. Until James Anderson came along, Botham long held the record at Test level for the most wickets claimed by an Englishman, taking 380 scalps in a career that spanned 15 years at the highest level. Botham was pinpoint accurate as his average of 28.30 proved, rarely allowing batsmen to get on top of him.
He was always the man for the big occasion, with almost half of his wickets coming against Australia in the Specsavers Ashes. Before Stokes’ heroics against the Aussies at Headingley, Botham’s outstanding knock in 1981 in Leeds was arguably the signature moment in the history of English cricket. The all-rounder emptied bars around the ground when he entered the crease. Few players have ever matched his charisma and
talent on the field.
England have always had the need for a great all-rounder to balance out their line-up and provide the same impact as Botham. Andrew Flintoff came very close and was the beating heart of the Three Lions’ side that reclaimed the Ashes in 2005, dominating with both bat and ball. However, he lacked longevity at the peak of his powers, and had the stain of captaining the England team that was whitewashed by the Aussies in the 2006/07 series. He was the closest to Botham until the arrival of Stokes, who now has the opportunity to surpass the great man’s exploits on the cricket field.
Stokes has already accomplished more than most players will achieve in a lifetime. He has been an Ashes’ winner in 2015 and played an integral role in guiding England to their first World Cup triumph. His match-winning effort against New Zealand will go down in history as one of the finest innings produced by an England player, dragging Eoin Morgan’s men back from the brink of defeat to their dramatic Super Over triumph. Stokes somehow bettered that performance in the Specsavers Ashes a mere two months later, defying the Aussies at Headingley with his unbeaten innings of 135. There may never be a better display in the circumstances by an England batsman.
Stokes’ ability with the bat is far greater than Flintoff’s and Botham’s, although he still has a little way to go to surpass the latter’s 14 Test centuries. However, it should be simply a formality if Stokes’ maintains his current form at the crease. He averages nearly 60 over the last 12 months, which has included centuries against Australia, South Africa, and the West Indies.
The 29-year-old is now in a position where he is England’s best batsman and sits behind only Steve Smith and Virat Kohli in the world rankings. He has more than enough talent to remain there for the rest of his career and boost his career average towards the 50-run mark, batting at five in the order.
His bowling statistics are inferior to Botham’s and unlikely to match the 380 wickets claimed by the old great. However, even those statistics are trending in the right direction and he has developed an ability to strike at crucial moments. Joe Root has not been afraid to turn to Stokes when England’s need has been dire even ahead of Anderson and Stuart Broad.
Perhaps the greatest difference between Stokes and Botham is their ability in the field. Stokes is an athletic freak, producing moments of sheer brilliance to remove opponents from the crease. In the future, England will be desperately trying to find the next Stokes instead of the next Botham, capable of pulling a rabbit out of a hat at any moment.