In this week’s Wisden Cricket Weekly Podcast, Phil Walker and Jo Harman considered where Ben Stokes sits among the all-round greats of both English and world cricket.
After a quiet game by Stokes’s high standards at Southampton, the all-rounder put in a typically game-changing performance at Emirates Old Trafford last week, grinding out 176 in the first innings and then hammering 78* on the final morning to set up an England win.
Reflecting on the 29-year-old’s series-levelling efforts, Jo and Phil compared Stokes to the greats of the game.
Jo Harman: “There have been moments, Michael Vaughan at his peak during the 2002/03 Ashes, Steve Harmison with the ball and Flintoff around ’05, but in terms of what Stokes has been doing with bat and ball for quite a prolonged period of time now, I’ve not seen anything like this from an English cricketer and we are getting towards the point where I’ve not seen anything like this from any all-rounder.
“Kallis is going to take some beating in terms of stats but in terms of dragging his team to victory, Stokes has done a lot recently in a way that I don’t remember Kallis doing.”
Phil Walker: “If you compare him to the other big England all-rounders, Botham’s career was a story of two halves, he made one hundred in his last 50 tests and averaged 35-40 with the ball, albeit with a bad back [in his last 50 Tests]. Botham’s second half was an embarrassing imitation of the first. He was untouchable for his first 50 tests and awkward to say the least for the second half.
“Stokes is 29 and he’s just getting better and better and better. The only comparison I can think of is Imran Khan. Imran would win Test matches with bat and ball, mainly with the ball but he would win games on sheer force of will. He was the inversion of Botham, Imran averaged 50 and 18 in the second half of his career.
“Then there’s the charisma side of things. Jo mentioned Kallis who would adorn cricket matches but he wasn’t talismanic, he didn’t drive games on the back of his charisma. We’ve had this sense with Stokes that he’s a great in the making. I spoke to Will Smith, his old captain at Durham, six or seven years ago and he told me Stokes was the best cricketer he’d ever seen. It’s tempting to say it’s his latest graduation ceremony, but he’s been doing it for two years now.
“As Root said we are in the presence of greatness. And we can now say that without our tongue in cheek and without hyping things up unduly. We are genuinely watching one of the great cricketers of our time and maybe of all time.”
You can listen to the full episode of the Wisden Cricket Weekly Podcast here.