Sunday People



ENGLAND’S last Test win over Australia at Old Trafford may have come 42 years ago – but Mike Whitney can remember it like it was yesterday.

He can also recall his first brush with a cricketer who completely transforme­d that 1981 series.

And he reckons that Ben Stokes shares many of the characteri­stics of a man who achieved the unlikely feat of having an entire Ashes series named after him.

Former fast bowler Whitney said: “I was fielding at fine leg and Beefy (Ian Botham) wasn’t wearing a helmet. Dennis Lillee was bowling quick. He bowled a bouncer at Ian and I thought it was going to hit him on the head.

Next thing I knew, there were shouts of ‘catch it’, and the ball was flying over my head and straight into the crowd for six.

“A bit later in his innings he sent a ball out of the ground onto the railway track around the back of the ground.

“It was a pretty amazing welcome to Test cricket.”

By the time that fifth Test rolled around,

Botham had already broken both Australian hearts and the spirit of a touring side that had no answer to his all-round brilliance.

Pat Cummins will know how his predecesso­r felt.

Although his side are 2-1 up with two Tests to play, Stokes has played a similar role to Botham so far this summer.

He plundered 155 as England fell just 43 runs short of victory at Lord’s. The England skipper then smashed a match-changing 80 to keep his side in the game at Headingley.

Although he has been unable to play a full role with the ball so far in this series, there have been times when he has taken on the Aussies almost single-handedly.

In much the same way as

Botham in the summer of ‘81.

Whitney added: “Stokes is like

Botham, he’s such a clean hitter of a cricket ball. I remember at Old Trafford, you saw shoulders dropping a little bit as Botham was smashing the ball to all parts.

“It has a massive impact. You start to think, where do you bowl at these guys? How do you set a field? “And when these players are in that mode, they seem to be able to ride their luck and make the most of it. You see it with Stokes, he’ll hit balls into the stands or just short of fielders, whereas other guys will just pick out the fielder.

“Beefy was the same.”

England famously won that 1981 series 3-1. Botham, meanwhile, went from zero – when he bagged a pair of ducks as captain at Lord’s – to a national hero by the end of the summer.

He scored 399 runs and took 34 wickets in a series that would enter cricket folklore.

So can Stokes do likewise? “I said at the start of the summer that Australia would win this series 3-1,” noted Whitney, who would go on to play 12 Tests for his country.

“And I’m going to stick to that.” England will hope that he is wrong. And they will be calling on the spirit of Botham to banish that Old Trafford Ashes hoodoo.

GIVING Moeen Ali the green light to go big in Manchester may be the answer for England, reckons Nick Compton.

At Headingley, Ali (below) moved up to

No.3 in a bid to upset the

Aussie frontline bowlers.

And former

Test batsman

Compton said:

“With Zak Crawley and Ben Duckett doing OK opening, the question is who comes in next now Ollie Pope is out?

“The No.3 spot is tricky. It wouldn’t surprise me if they say to Moeen, ‘Go out there and take it to the Aussie attack’.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom