London: Sir Ian Botham has hailed Ben Stokes as English cricket’s “Special One” and has told the all-rounder his miraculous innings at Headingley will change his life for ever.
Botham says his own life has never been the same since he scored 149 to help England beat Australia at Headingley in 1981, an innings Stokes evoked memories of with his Ashes-saving unbeaten 135 on Sunday.
And Botham has labelled Stokes’s efforts, which ensured England beat Australia by one wicket despite being bowled out for just 67 in their first innings, as one of cricket’s “greatest events” and has paid a glowing tribute to the batsman’s calmness under pressure.
“He is the Special One, and I intend to call him that for the rest of his career,” Botham said in an interview. “He wants to be the best. He wants to be in the oven. He wants to be in the hottest place in the kitchen and he wants to take them all on. That is his character.
“It changed my life overnight. I think Ben’s life will be the same. He will have no private life. He has to get used to that and so do the family.
“He is public property, but it is a great place to be in for the long term. It will set him up for life. He will reap the rewards which he richly deserves and he is now a world, box-office attraction.
“He will play all the Twenty20 leagues, but the refreshing thing about it all is he wants to play Test cricket and do well in it. That is the ultimate test. Five-day games ebb and flow. We were bowled out for 67 and in any other format it will be all over. But Test cricket gives you room for something extraordinary to happen, and it happened.
“I will take him out for dinner and discuss it if he wants to. I think he is the kind of character who wants to improve on everything he does. He will wake up tomorrow, it might take 48 hours to sink in, and he will think I can do it, and I will do it again. He has got them. He has got the wood on Australia and I tell you, there is no better feeling as an England cricketer.”
Speaking on Sunday night, Bob Willis, Botham’s fellow hero of Headingley ‘81, said he thought Stokes’s innings was better because of the circumstances.
Botham did not want to be drawn on comparisons but was impressed by how Stokes never gave up and marshalled the tail-end resistance that helped his side home.
“Everyone was saying we had no chance on Sunday, but you always have a chance until it is over and Ben believed that. I don’t compare the two innings. There were different circumstances, different conditions and a different pitch. I was just delighted to have witnessed one of the greatest events in cricketing history.
“He did exactly what was needed and kept his cool. In 1981, Chris Tavare outscored me until the new ball. You just sit back and you wait. See how it develops. He lost people at the other end. That did not blow his mind. He stayed there. When he realised it was all down to him in that fantastic partnership with Jack Leach he took on the responsibility.
“Jack might have only got one not out but he played his part as well. He gutsed it out, which says a lot about him as a person and a character. It says a lot about Ben because he trusted him at the end. Australia felt they only needed one ball an over to get Jack Leach but it didn’t work.
“Why they were giving Ben a single after five deliveries and one at Jack was beyond me. That was weird. They got that wrong. But when someone puts pressure on you like Ben did, then your mind gets scrambled. Ben would have been pretty relaxed until there were seven or eight runs required. Then he will have suddenly thought, ‘Blimey I can’t get it wrong now’.
“In 1981, we were made to follow on. We had nowhere to go. The top order failed but then the tail wagged, which was similar to Sunday. Graham Dilley and Chris Old batted with me and yesterday, Ben had guys trying to hang around and play with him. It did not psyche him out. He just stayed in and did what he wanted to do.”