Don Topley: Stokes the great all-rounder eclipses Botham’s antics
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DON TOPLEY reflects on Ben Stoke’s superb innings at Headingly
What an incredible and gripping Test Match it was at Headingley, last week.
Absolutely stunning and if I had gambled on a result, like the masses, I would have simply lost my house!
The Test which lasted just four days (no reason for those who advocate four Day Tests to be excited, as England were dismissed by Australia for 67 in less than one session) had everything associated with villains, cricketers of great character and all-conquering heroes.
Ben Stokes, the star of the stunning show, was a villain earlier in England's paltry first innings showing, being dismissed to a disappointing shot. Such a wide ball, he nicked off when his side was under extreme pressure - simply underwhelming even in age-group cricket.
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His match-winning greatness later in the match, when all was lost, was not just 'Bothamesque' but in my opinion perhaps better than the great swashbuckling all-rounder of the 1981 Ashes success, and even Freddie Flintoff's match- winning performances of 2005.
Stokes' winning innings of 135 not out was the very best Test innings I have witnessed or ever heard of. It had the greats of the commentary box - David Gower, Michael Holding and even Ian Botham - reeling with jubilation.
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It really did bring back memories of the great man, I.T. Botham, and his Ashes of 1981. It was Headingley and the famous Western Terrace again, and then Old Trafford where the great and personable wonderman won the country's admiration and hearts.
Back then, the country was also in political turmoil (Toxteth Riots and long running coal mining dispute), but Botham's heroics really did give the country a wonderful feel-good factor.
Some don't like comparing eras or the achievements of Botham, Flintoff and Stokes. Botham was my hero, when at school and then I had the honour of playing against him for many years
I feel Botham is the better and more potent bowler of the three. He opened the bowling and was more dependable and bowled the quantity of overs. Whilst Flintoff can open the bowling, Stokes is more suited to first/second change. Flintoff and Stokes traditionally would look to hit the pitch hard - more than Botham - who used the art of swing more.
All three have the ability to transform and change the nature of any game with bat and ball or a wonder catch. Botham was probably the most intimidating of the three for the opposition.
Stokes is by far the most athletic fielder and can field absolutely anywhere. Flintoff was a little more restrictive with his painful knees but still could do something magical. Botham was an outstanding slip fielder.
Back in the day, Botham was a cricketer first and an athlete second, where Stokes is an athelete first and a cricketer second - a result of today's more modern professional, progressive and accountable world.
There are ultimately some differences for me that make Stokes' innings of last week better than anything Botham and Flintoff have produced. Stokes' knock was to win the game in the final fourth innings, therefore under far more pressure, where Botham's two sensational innings of '81 were both in the third innings of the match and set up the chance for a potential win.
Botham's Old Trafford knock of 118 was technically better than his Headingley heroics of 149 not out, as the burly Somerset, Worcestershire and Durham celebrity endured much luck, as he 'teed off' freakishly.
Stokes was under extreme pressure (with England's No.11, Jack Leach), knowing one simple mistake by either of them would not just lose the Test, but more importantly, The Ashes too.
Stokes took 72 balls to acculmulate his first three runs and over 150 balls for his first 50 before attacking brutally the Aussie bowlers. His second 50 in contrast took just 47 balls. Vast criticism of England and his first innings dismissal by the media no doubt spurred him on - he showed discipline, courage, intelligence and patience.
He didn't even celebrate his impressive century, as he kept focused on trying to win this incredible game, with the valuable support of Leach. Leach was full of character and composure and will be remembered in the annals of history, like tailenders: Graham Dilley, Monty Panesar and James Anderson for their stoic batting. I love cricketers of character!
Team England enjoyed their celebrations by returning at twilight to the famous Headingley pitch, with many beers and much McDonalds. The highlight being Leach replaying his solitary run, much to the entertainment and laughter of his team-mates and new 'best friend and batting partner', Ben Stokes.
What a summer of cricket we are witnessing. First, the incredible World Cup victory and now, another historic Ashes battle.