Daily Mail




CRICKET is a numbers game, but how does it use them to define greatness? Is it the milestones on the honours boards? The personal statistics? Or maybe it is the medals around players’ necks. Ben Stokes has impressive entries in the first two categories but in the latter he reigns supreme. It is hard to argue against him as England’s greatest matchwinne­r. Twice now in a little over three years, he has been the player to stand firm and carry the team over the line with world titles at stake. Throw in that astonishin­g, manof-the-match hundred to defy Australia at Headingley in the 2019 Ashes and he has been at the centre of the three highestpro­file wins in memory.

It is not always pretty when elite sportspeop­le respond under pressure, but what makes them special is that they do respond. Not that Stokes plays for individual glory. The team are at the heart of his every conversati­on.

A superstar with bat and ball, yes, but his legacy, when his Test revolution eventually comes to an end, might just be that he showed England — a nation bereft of silverware historical­ly — how to win.


THE first thing to say is it’s impossible to compare eras. Great players would have been great at any time. I didn’t see Jack Hobbs, Wally Hammond and Sydney Barnes, so I’ll keep this to players in my time. I can narrow it down to three. I grew up watching Ian Botham do ridiculous things. And the way he did them, from impossible situations with the belief he had, was incredible.

And the argument for Ben Stokes is growing, not least because he has done it in all formats now. I agree with Jos Buttler that Ben would have to be in the conversati­on, and he could end up England’s greatest cricketer if he carries on doing it in high-pressure situations to win trophies and Tests.

But if I must come up with one name it will be Jimmy Anderson. I don’t think his longevity in Test cricket will be beaten. To play 175 Tests as a fast bowler and take 667 wickets is phenomenal and, at 40, he is still going strong. People will look back on his record and say, ‘How on earth did he do that?’


The tag of ‘the greatest’ is not one to be dished out lightly. In the history of sport, only Muhammad Ali has claimed it with justificat­ion. England have had some fantastic players through different eras during my 60 years involved in cricket, and Kevin Pietersen is the best player I’ve seen play for England from the commentary box, because whenever he came out to bat

I was on the edge of my seat. Those who would contend against Pietersen in my lifetime: Andrew Flintoff, Ian Botham, Graham Gooch,

Geoffrey Boycott, to name only a few.

Time dims the memory, though, and you need to go a little further back for the best:

Fred Trueman. he was a ground-breaker, as the first man to take 300 Test match wickets. Fred had his own TV show — The Indoor League.

he transcende­d the sport. But if we are talking about the present day, Stokes is right up there in a similar vein, as a box-office, global cricketer. Someone who is driving the game forward. Someone all young cricketers, male and female, look up to. he is a super lad and a great role model for future generation­s.


I remember writing around the time of the Cape Town Test in 2020 that it was legitimate to talk of Ben Stokes in the same breath as Ian Botham. And the more Stokes carries on putting in major performanc­es to claim world titles, as he did again on Sunday to win the Twenty20 World Cup, the more the case for him being the greatest will become irresistib­le.

But for now I still cannot look beyond Beefy. Maybe it was because I was young and impression­able when he was in his pomp, but the aura of the man is still unbeatable. Stokes has some way to go to match Botham’s bowling record but Beefy never won a World Cup and never had the opportunit­y to play Twenty20 cricket. We can only wonder what sort of record he would have had in the modern game. They have both inspired ‘Miracles of headingley’ but I will go for the man who pulled off the original miracle in 1981, the incomparab­le Ian Terence Botham.


How good was Wally hammond? Put it this way: in 1928-29, in his second Test in Australia, he made 251 at Sydney aged 25. Next innings, at Melbourne: 200. Next Test, at Adelaide: 119 not out and 177. his tally in that series was 905 — still an England record Down Under. I just wish I had seen him bat.

Instead, I’ll have to rely on the best judges of the time, who reckoned his cover-drive had come from heaven, and his astonishin­g career record: 7,249 Test runs at 58, with the Second World War robbing him of several years. he made seven Test double-centuries, including a triple in New Zealand, and nine hundreds against Australia. he could also bowl — taking 732 first-class wickets with his seamers — and had a safe pair of hands. remind you of anyone? had he played in an era of white-ball cricket, hammond would have been a star to rank with Ben Stokes.

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 ?? GETTY IMAGES ?? Winner: Stokes celebrates hitting the runs to win the T20 World Cup
GETTY IMAGES Winner: Stokes celebrates hitting the runs to win the T20 World Cup

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