Ben Stokes’ magnificent second innings at Headingley in the 2019 Ashes Third Test naturally drew comparisons to Ian Botham’s famous performance at the same venue almost four decades earlier.
Stokes produced an Ashes-defining haul of an unbeaten 135 in Leeds to drag England back into the series, having lost at Edgbaston and drawn at Lord’s.
But does that achievement have to indeed be considered ‘defining’, yet?
There are still the must-win missions at both Old Trafford and The Oval, and the looming shadow of Botham - the hero of 1981- would cast Stokes even darker should the campaign ultimately be in vain. England need to record a 3-1 margin to bring back The Ashes.
At Old Trafford in 1981, Botham - like Stokes today - was following on from his own Headingley heroics, when he created a second-innings partnership of 117 with Graham Dilley.
Then came the Fourth Test with England succeeding by less than 30 runs at Edgbaston. Botham took five wickets from 28, with Australia picking up just a single run in that period. England edged ahead with a 2-1 advantage.
In Manchester for the Fifth test, Botham however was caught on his very first ball by Ray Bright, the wicket taken by fast bowler Dennis Lillee, in England’s first innings. The second innings however would tell a different story and cement Beefy’s legend. Botham scored 118 off 102 balls, hitting 6 sixes, having walked out to partner Chris Tavaré as England were resting on a tense tally of 104 for five.
Former England captain Mike Brearley, who preceded and succeeded Botham as skipper during that Series would say,
Here Botham played possibly his best ever innings, hitting cleanly and powerfully, hooking Lillee for three big sixes (one could swear he was not even looking at the ball) and driving with crisp power
At Old Trafford, England won by 103 runs to retain the Ashes with a 3-1 series lead, with the sixth Test at the Oval drawn.
In total, across the 1981 Ashes, Botham - the Man of the Series - scored 399 runs, taking 34 wickets and 12 catches. What’s more, he had resigned as England captain after the first Test at Lord’s, which Australia had won. Brearely has since stated that if Botham had maintained the captaincy, he ‘very much doubts if he could’ have had the same success.
That Series has affectionately gone on to be known as ‘Botham’s Ashes’.
England haven’t beaten Australia at Old Trafford since Botham’s heroics. The Third Test of 2005 at OT has however been referred to as Manchester’s greatest ever Test match, with Australia hanging on for a draw from the final ball to keep the Series level.
But this time around, in 2019, is it time for Stokes to certifiably stake his claim for this to be his Ashes and banish a 40-year sorry streak for England at Old Trafford?