Botham v Stokes — Who is the greatest England all-rounder?
The accolades have been pouring in for England all-rounder Ben Stokes since his superb player-of-the-match display in the second cricket Test against the West Indies at Old Trafford in Manchester.
England’s talisman went to the top of the Test all-rounder rankings after helping the hosts square the three-match series at 1-1 with two perfectly judged innings — a painstaking 176 and a rapid 78 not out — as well as three key wickets.
“Where would England be without him?” former captain Michael Vaughan asked. “If you look at the last two years, every single England win you could argue that Ben Stokes played the pivotal role.”
Meanwhile James Anderson, England’s all-time leading Test wicket-taker, promptly hailed Stokes as the best all-rounder he’d played with, surpassing even 2005 Ashes hero Andrew Flintoff, heading into Friday’s decider with the West Indies.
But is it yet right to rank Stokes above Ian Botham, the man whose England wickets record Anderson broke and widely regarded as the country’s best all-rounder of the modern era?
Since the start of 2019, Stokes has averaged over 55 with the bat and under 29 with the ball in Test cricket. The 29-year-old’s corresponding Test career figures, however, stand at 38,58 and 31,73.
Botham finished his 102-Test career with a batting average of 33,54 and 383 wickets at 28,40.
Left-handed batsman Stokes already has 10 hundreds from 65 Tests.
It will be a major surprise if, as arguably a more versatile run-getter, he does not surpass Botham’s tally of 14 before he’s finished.
But whereas Botham often took the new ball, such is the current depth of England’s bowling resources that Stokes is mainly deployed as a fourth seamer.
“Stokes will prove to be the more reliable run-scorer, but he will never be able to match Botham the bowler when he was at his lithe peak between 1978 and 1981,” former England off-spinner Vic Marks wrote in the Observer.
“Both impose their will on proceedings in a manner way beyond ordinary mortals,” added Marks, a teammate of Botham at Somerset.
Yet for all his heroics, notably in 2019 when he starred in England’s World Cup triumph and oversaw a staggering one-wicket Test win over Australia at Headingley with a breathtaking hundred, Stokes hasn’t quite reshaped a series the way Botham did the 1981 Ashes.
Having been stripped of the England captaincy, with the hosts 1-0 down, Botham’s remarkable, attacking centuries at Headingley and Old Trafford, as well as a stunning spell of five wickets for one run at Edgbaston, saw England to a trio of victories in a 3-1 series win.
And despite Stokes’s brilliance in the field, he’s yet to match Botham, who revolutionised the position of second slip by standing yards in front of the cordon while taking a succession of staggering catches.
But Stokes, as Anderson pointed out, has room for improvement.
“He’s becoming the best all-rounder that England’s ever had,” Anderson said. “There’s no reason he can’t go on and be even better.”
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