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England all-rounder Ben Stokes has played a big role in the Three Lions winning the 50-over and Twenty20 World Cups and has been an inspirational leader, transforming the Test team in weeks. Image Credit: Source: Sportzpics for BCCI

Dubai: Former England captain David Gower was effusive in his praise of his former teammate Ian Botham, calling him a great player who would have fitted perfectly into the Twenty20 scheme of things now, but says current England talisman Ben Stokes is the greatest.

“Ben is an extraordinary player, I can’t put it any higher,” Gower told Gulf News in an exclusive interview during the International Twenty20 League, for which he is part of a high-profile commentary team for Zee Sports. “Ben in some ways has outshone Botham I suppose. The innings of 81 in Headingley in 2019 is awesome. He changed from stonewall defence to outright offence, it’s one-off, but brilliant. Then the World Cup final at Lord’s hinged on Stokes’ innings. An outstanding performance from an outstanding man, though some luck came in their way,” added the left-hander, known for his elegance and silken touch on the field. The veteran commentator is no different off the field when he faces a barrage of questions, typically playing straight.

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Former England skipper David Gower says he enjoys commentating on Twenty20 matches, after being typecast as the Test analyst in the past. Image Credit: PA Images

Who from his era would be a perfect fit in today’s Twenty20? The answer was not like the elegant glance off his pads, but a brutal straight drive.

Innovater of the past era

“Easy answer is Botham. Ian is an innovator in our era. Very talented. If you have to transpose from one era to another and you just have to assume that Ian probably born 40 years later and 25 years old, at the peak of his prowess, he would be a star in this era. He would be clearing the boundary and playing ridiculous shots apart from playing his part with the ball,” said Gower.

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Former England all-rounder Ian Botham would have been a star in Twenty20 if he were to born 40 years later, feels his compatriot David Gower. Image Credit: PA Images via Reuters Connect

Stokes has been the pillar for England, guiding the Three Lions to the 50-over World Cup in 2019 and also played a crucial role in guiding his team home, along with Moeen Ali, in the Twenty20 World Cup final against Pakistan in Melbourne late last year. However, the leader of the Test team has really transformed the way England play their red-ball game, the aggressive approach getting them improbable wins so far.

However, Stokes has announced his retirement from ODIs and without the star all-rounder, the England team might find it difficult to defend their World Cup title in India later this year.

Remarkable individual

“Everyone would love if Ben plays in the ODI World Cup, someone who is growing up to be a remarkable individual. Who would have believed in these events in the last 12 months? He has developed into a magnificent leader and the part [Brendon] McCullum plays works beautifully. The way they have transformed England Test team in a matter of weeks, when he took over, has been just unbelievable,” said the 65-year-old. “If they want to have a proper go at winning the World Cup again, then the best thing they could do is to persuade him to be part of the team again.”

Gower, who has 3,170 runs in ODI, feels there is still plenty of room for touch artists in Twenty20 and says the spinners have raised their game in the shortest format quite well, but need some support from the pitches and long boundaries.

“Power-hitters are exciting to watch, but I find pleasure in watching those with a bit of a touch. You can be skilful enough to manoeuvre the ball into the gaps, use the ancient and the much-prodded art of timing and finesse to get what they want,” Gower said, referring to Alex Hales, James Vince and Joe Root, who scored two half-centuries in the ILT20. And the stylish left-hander did confess to playing a reverse sweep during a 40-over Sunday league game.

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Gower says Joe Root getting two half-centuries playing the conventional way is still an option other batters to follow in Twenty20 cricket. Image Credit: Source: Sportzpics for BCCI

“To be fair, one shouldn’t forget that the bowlers have the hardest job of them all on better pitches. Considering that the skills and new tricks they have to acquire are all part of the development of the short format of the game. 40-50 years ago also the bowlers had the tricks up their sleeve, but the current bowlers have to learn so many more, just the variety of slow balls alone,” added the former England captain, who said that he is enjoying his commentary stint in the Twenty20 games after being typecast as Test commentator for decades.

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Dubai Capitals spinner Adam Zampa celebrating a wicket against Abu Dhabi Knight Riders. Gower feels the wrist spinners have always been canny in their craft over the decades. Image Credit: Source: Supplied

Disguising their options

“Everyone now is trying to be canny. Orthodox spinners need to change the pace, change the line and developing an arm ball are all part of it. Mystery spinners are a mystery until you work it out. The cleverness of the wrist spinners was always there. In this form of the game, the cleverest ones are those who disguise their options better. The batters who pick those will prosper,” Gower said in support of the bowlers who have to toil on flat pitches that leave the contest heavily loaded in the favour of the batters.

“For a long time now, good spinners have been an automatic pick in T20. With bigger grounds, it helps the contest all round and becomes a dreadful game if the outfield is brought in, which allows mediocrity to shine,” he said, putting up a stout defence for the spinners.

Ashes series

Gower is also positive, just like the England Test team under Stokes and McCullum playing Bazball cricket, on the hosts’ chances in the Ashes series, to begin on June 16.

“The big test to Bazball is against the Australians, the chance that we could do it or not comes up in the next few months. It is going to be interesting. Australia have a very strong bowling attack and have their own exciting batters and have their own positive approach to the game. England will start feeling positive about the chances, that’s the whole culture. They are frightened of losing again, because they back themselves to keep winning elsewhere. Should be a fascinating series,” he concluded.