Cricket

Sir Ian Botham feels Ben Stokes, pictured, will be the 'dominant male' in the England side for years to come.

Sir Ian Botham: Ben Stokes is probably better than I was at the same age

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Sir Ian Botham believes Ben Stokes may be an even bigger talent than he was at the same age and is already "the dominant lion" of the England team.

Stokes is 24, the youngest member of England's touring party in South Africa, but his combined skills as batsman, bowler and fielder have already established him as one of the central pillars of the side.

His stunning 258 in the drawn second Test against South Africa was the fastest double century in English history, wiping 57 balls off the record held by Botham since 1982.

The latter remains the country's greatest ever all-rounder, taking 383 wickets and scoring 14 centuries, but believes there is no ceiling on how high Stokes can soar.

"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," said Botham.

"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."

A dig into the bald statistics show that Botham might have done himself a rare disservice in measuring up against the younger man.

At 24 he had played the exact number of Tests as Stokes has now - 21 - but scoring one more century, taking 60 more wickets and holding 19 more catches.

However, he was happy to compare the brutal ball-striking he saw in Cape Town to his own career high performance against Australia in 1981.

"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, speaking in association with Kumala Wines.

"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."

By the time Botham turned 25 he was already established as a strike bowler and had taken five wickets in an innings on 10 occasions.

Stokes has banked two five-fors, both in Ashes cricket, but his bowling average currently stands at a modest 41.93 - a reflection, perhaps of the fact that he often bowls second change when the ball has started to soften.

"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."

:: Kumala Wines were proud supporters of 'Beefy Walking The Rainbow Nation'. For more information visit kumalawines.com.

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