Sir Ian Botham is confident that Ben Stokes is a better player than he was at the same age.
Stokes might have a long path to travel if he is to match Botham’s decorated career in terms of statistics, but already the 24-year-old has proved he has the same headline-grabbing talent.
That was spectacularly proved when he smashed Botham’s 33-year record for the fastest double-century by an England batsman during the drawn Cape Town Test this week.
Stokes did not just break Botham’s mark – which he set at 220 balls against India in 1982 – but he smashed it as he raced to the milestone using 57 balls fewer.
For Botham, already a fully paid-up member of the Stokes fan club, the innings was re-confirmation that England have a serious talent on their hands and one he suspects will drive the team’s success for years to come.
“I think as a player full stop he is probably better than I was at 24, I don’t know. He’s certainly up there,” he said.
“What I did was yesterday’s news, what he did is today’s news. That’s the way it is. I held that record for 33 years so it was about time it got broken really.
“He will feel untouchable at the moment. His confidence will be oozing and that will be good for the team as it will ooze onto the team and they will all pick up on that.
“It’s a little bit like being in the jungle – the dominant male lion: the rest feed off it.
“That’s how he’ll be. He’ll be the dominant male in that side for a few years to come.”
Stokes has revelled in the extra responsibility afforded to him in the past 12 months most significantly after being promoted to number six by Assistant Coach Paul Farbrace ahead of the New Zealand Test series in the summer.
The Durham all-rounder responded with a counter-punching 92 in the first innings – after coming in at 30 for four – before he smacked the fastest Test century at Lord’s in the second innings.
— Test Match Special (@bbctms) January 3, 2016
It dramatically altered the course of that match and England would pull off a stunning turnaround the next day in front of a Lord’s full house after fans snaked around the famous old venue before play to get a look at their new hero.
The strong travelling contingent of around 10,000 English fans in Cape Town were also treated to an ‘I was there’ moment this week, which Botham believes will change the young all-rounder’s life in the same way his own Headingley heroics in 1981 impacted on his career.
“Ben’s innings was one of those moments when you can just say I was there and I saw it. It will change his life,” said Botham.
“It’s quite remarkable when you think back to Headingley ’81, I know there was only about 10,000 people in the ground but I have met 3.5million who were there, but I was there for Ben Stokes.
“He’ll be enjoying this moment. You walk out and you empty the bars rather then fill them and it’s a nice feeling.”
It is remarkable to think that Stokes is the youngest member of England’s tour party in South Africa, which underlines the room for improvement he still has.
One area he most notably has to catch up on Botham at the same stage of their careers is his number with the ball. Stokes has taken 60 wickets less at an average of nearly 42.
That is perhaps a symptom of the fact Stokes is a batting all-rounder but also because he rarely gets use of the new ball behind established pair of James Anderson and Stuart Broad.
“That average will come down,” said Botham.
“I’m sure he’ll take the new ball for England at times, but at the moment there’s healthy competition for it.
“His bowling can only get better because he has got all the attributes.
“He’s got pace, he can swing the ball, he can reverse it, he can bowl orthodox…and of course he is terrific fielder, close to the bat, in the covers or mid-wicket, backward point, on the boundary.
“He is not a jack of all trades and master of none, he is actually probably a master of the three most important assets you need and that’s batting, bowling and fielding.”