Sir Ian Botham on the Ashes: why England will win 5-0

Ashes 2019: Ben Stokes matches Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff feats in remarkable win

Sir Ian Botham on the Ashes: why England will win 5-0

5:31 Ben Stokes played a remarkable innings to win the third Ashes Test for England and square the series Ben Stokes played a remarkable innings to win the third Ashes Test for England and square the series

“No way. No, no way. You cannot do that, Ben Stokes!”

England's remarkable summer started with some genius from Stokes, a stunning one-handed catch on the boundary in their Cricket World Cup opener against South Africa that prompted those exact words from Sky Sports' Nasser Hussain.

You cannot do that Ben Stokes …..

— Nasser Hussain (@nassercricket) August 25, 2019

After then playing a major hand in some Super-Over madness that saw England lift said World Cup, Stokes was again at the heart of a truly incredible win at Headingley on Sunday, one to rival not only that late Lord's drama in mid-July but anything in cricket that has come before.

“I'm not sure I've seen anything better than that on a Test ground,” was Australian great Ricky Ponting's reaction. “Some of that hitting today was just brilliant, but also the decision-making under the most extreme pressure.”

Sir Ian Botham had 1981, Andrew Flintoff 2005; there can be no doubt that 2019 belongs to Stokes, no matter the eventual outcome of an Ashes series now tied at 1-1 with two Tests to play – a series saved from what seemed certain extinction when last man Jack Leach joined Stokes at the crease with 73 runs still required.

0:45 Sir Ian Botham calls Stokes the 'Special One' after his match-winning innings at Headingley. Sir Ian Botham calls Stokes the 'Special One' after his match-winning innings at Headingley.

  • Botham: Stokes is the Special One
  • Willis: Victory eclipses miracle of 1981

England had gone into the fourth day bullish about their prospects of pulling off an unly victory, despite being three wickets down and still needing a further 203 runs to win.

“I rate our chances very highly,” said Joe Denly, who had contributed a battling 50 on the third evening. “There is a lot of belief in that changing room and excitement going into tomorrow.”

Stokes certainly had belief but, at that stage, with only two runs to his name from 50 balls, he gave no clue to the ridiculous ball-striking that was to come by mid-afternoon in Leeds.

1:00 Stokes carves the ball to the boundary sealing an incredible win for England in the 3rd Ashes Test Stokes carves the ball to the boundary sealing an incredible win for England in the 3rd Ashes Test

Instead, heading into the fourth morning, it was captain Joe Root who appeared key to England's chances, Sky Sports' Michael Atherton describing it as 'Root's most important innings'.

So, when Root departed after only adding two to his overnight score of 75 and Stokes had accumulated 16 further dot balls before finally ticking off his first run of the day, you'd be forgiven for thinking the Ashes were already halfway to Australia.

3:02 Joe Root praises 'outrageous' Stokes following his incredible innings to help England win the third Ashes Test Joe Root praises 'outrageous' Stokes following his incredible innings to help England win the third Ashes Test

Not so. Every single run emphatically cheered by a raucous home crowd, England began to tick them off; Stokes, supported nicely by Jonny Bairstow, reduced the equation to 121 by lunch.

But a chaotic hour later and Bairstow, Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes had all been and gone. Jofra Archer smited Nathan Lyon for a couple of boundaries to briefly raise hopes once more before getting carried away and holing out looking for another.

Stokes was running support, but finally found a willing partner in No 11 Leach, whose own 17-ball contribution must not be underestimated.

Stokes celebrates with Jack Leach, who crucially blocked out 17 balls for one run

While Leach – who scored 92 as a night-watchman against Ireland only a month ago – can, and did, stick around, Stokes knew a change of approach was needed. Unbeaten on 61 from 174 balls at the time, he proceeded to smash 74 from his next 45 deliveries, including seven staggering sixes, to get England over the line. Not that that even begins to tell the whole story.

There was the extraordinary reverse-slog-sweep off Lyon for six, the ramp off Pat Cummins that also cleared the rope, the 16 runs in three balls off Josh Hazlewood as he brought up his hundred. Paired with such clean ball-striking was absolute clarity of thought in the most pressure-fuelled scenario.

That's not to say there weren't moments of doubt. Stokes, himself, couldn't bear to watch a couple of Cummins deliveries to Leach, nor the DRS decision when the tailender was wrapped on the pads with one of them – the ball crucially pitching outside leg.

Stokes can barely believe what he's just done after pulling off the most remarkable win at Headingley

There was Marcus Harris' drop of Stokes at third man – shades of Simon Jones at Edgbaston in '05 – when England were 17 short of victory.

Then, with one run needed to tie, Lyon muffed a run-out chance – Leach stranded looking for that single – and Stokes could and should have been given out lbw next ball by Joel Wilson, Australia left to rue wasting their remaining review on the Leach shout.

Stokes was not to be denied, letting out a huge roar when rewarded with the match-winning moment his innings so richly deserved.

3:11 Stokes receives a standing ovation at the start of his man-of-the-match interview with Michael Atherton Stokes receives a standing ovation at the start of his man-of-the-match interview with Michael Atherton

“Incredible,” said Stuart Broad, moments after England clinched the craziest of victories. “The bloke has got the heart of a lion.

“He didn't celebrate his fifty, didn't celebrate his hundred. It was just all about winning this Test match. He deserves everything that comes his way.”

And lest we forget, it was Stokes' lion-hearted effort with the ball on day two – bowling a 15-over spell unchanged, with Archer off the field with cramp – that initially dragged England back into the contest.

Stokes also starred with the ball in Australia's second innings, taking 3-56

Stokes' heroics have not only kept the series alive but potentially swung the balance back in England's favour.

Such a thriller as the one that unfolded at Headingley hasn't been seen, certainly on these shores, since 2005 and Edgbaston. England famously would triumph 2-1 in that series, carrying the momentum of that two-run win with them.

“Not all Test wins are equal,” said Atherton. “The Edgbaston game in 2005 switched the narrative of that series, with England riding a tidal wave to Old Trafford, Trent Bridge and The Oval.

2:28 Tim Paine says Stokes was too good for Australia as they fell to a one-wicket defeat in the third Test Tim Paine says Stokes was too good for Australia as they fell to a one-wicket defeat in the third Test

“I just feel it is going to be mentally very difficult for Australia to recover from this. A game they had nailed, that they should've won and had opportunities to win. Psychologically, that's hard to come back from.”

Whatever the outcome of the final two Tests and the series, Stokes is sure to be at the heart of the action dumbfounding the script-writers once more.

Watch day one of the fourth Ashes Test between England and Australia, at Old Trafford, live on Sky Sports The Ashes from 10am on Wednesday 4th September.


5 Star Batsmen Who Bagged Pairs in Test Cricket

Sir Ian Botham on the Ashes: why England will win 5-0

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    David Cannon/Getty Images

    Anniversaries are often dates to be celebrated. Sometimes, however, they are reminders of a time when things did not quite go your way.

    Allan Border enjoyed a superb career with Australia, scoring 11,174 Test runs and finishing up with an average above 50.

    The left-handed batsman also helped his country climb the doldrums during his time as captain, including becoming world champions in one-day cricket in 1987.

    However, back in 1993, Border suffered a rare memory that he would rather forget while wearing his beloved Baggy Green.

    Having fallen first ball to Curtly Ambrose in the first innings, he completed a pair in the fifth Test against West Indies when he was bowled second time around for another duck.

    Ian Bishop was the bowler to hand Border the unwanted honour, and to make matters worse the tourists went on to win by an innings and seal a 2-1 series victory.

    We have picked out five other star batsmen who bagged pairs in Test cricket. 

Graham Gooch (England)

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    Just Allan Border, Graham Gooch is heralded as one of the greatest players to appear for his country.

    In an international career that spanned 20 years, Gooch scored the most runs by an Englishman in Test cricket (8,900).

    He also holds the record for England's highest score, making 333 vs. India at Lord's.

    However, the Essex batsman did not get off to the best of starts in his Test career.

    Called up at the age of 21 at the start of the 1975 Ashes series, Gooch was dismissed for a pair on debut in the opening Test at Edgbaston.

    Perhaps unfortunate to be caught down the leg side in the first innings, the right-hander was unable to do much second time around as he edged a superb delivery from Jeff Thomson.

    Gooch did manage to get off the mark in the next match but scores of six and 31 were not enough for him to retain his place.

    He was dropped from the team after his two ducks, then had to wait three years for another chance in the Test team. Mind you, he made up for lost time when he did get back in!

Sir Ian Botham (England)

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    The 1981 Ashes series in England will forever be remembered for the exploits of Sir Ian Botham.

    Not once but twice he lifted the hosts from what looked to be certain defeat. His heroics helped turn around an early deficit in the series, with England eventually triumphing 3-1 over their oldest rivals.

    But, what is easily forgotten is that Botham had started the summer in stark contrast to how he finished it.

    The all-rounder was captain of the team that lost the opening Test by four wickets at Trent Bridge, though things got even worse for him in the next match.

    At Lord's Botham failed to register a run in either innings, with his return to the pavilion second time around seeing him greeted by complete silence by the MCC members in attendance.

    He opted to resign as skipper after the Test finished in a draw, allowing Mike Brearley to take the job back.

    Freed of the shackles of captaincy, Botham smashed 149 not out as England, having been forced to follow-on by their opponents, somehow won at Headingley. 

    He followed that up by taking five wickets for one run at Edgbaston to secure another unly victory. Australia had needed just 151 in the final innings, yet Botham's spell saw them fall 30 runs short.

    A century in the final Test made sure the series would forever be remembered as “Botham's Ashes”—he finished with 399 runs and 34 wickets.

Virender Sehwag (India)

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    Gareth Copley/Getty Images

    What can be worse than a pair? How about being dismissed first ball twice in the same match!

    Virender Sehwag suffered the rare embarrassment of bagging a “king pair” at Edgbaston during India's tour of England in 2011.

    The opening batsman edged the opening delivery of the second over of the game, bowled by Stuart Broad, through to wicketkeeper Matt Prior after India had been put into bat in Birmingham.

    Second time around and poor Sehwag did not even make it the first over of the innings.

    James Anderson's wide away swinger tempted him into a rather rash drive, resulting in him providing a simple slip catch to England skipper Andrew Strauss.

    It was hardly the return to the Test team that the experienced opener would have hoped for after earning a recall.

    India lost the game by an innings and were also beaten in the final Test, too, meaning England swept the series and leapfrogged their opponents to move to the top of the ICC Test rankings.

Mark Taylor (Australia)

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    Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

    Being given the opportunity to captain your country is a moment of great pride for any cricketer.

    Mark Taylor was handed the honour in 1994, taking over from Allan Border. His first Test in charge was certainly unforgettable, just for all the wrong reasons!

    It started well enough when he won the toss and opted to bat first against Pakistan in Karachi.

    While Taylor was caught and bowled for a duck off the bowling of Wasim Akram, the tourists still managed to make 337 in their first innings.

    Pakistan replied with 256 and although Taylor completed his unwanted pair second time around, his side were still in complete charge of the match when they reached 171-2.

    However, the bowling combination of Akram and Waqar Younis sparked a batting collapse. Australia lost their last eight wickets for 61 runs, leaving Pakistan requiring 314 for victory.

    They got home by the narrowest of margins, an unbroken last-wicket stand of 57 making it a thoroughly miserable start for Taylor's reign.

    Things did get better for the left-hander; he would go on to win 26 of his 50 Tests as skipper.

Marvan Atapattu (Sri Lanka)

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    Ross Setford/Getty Images

    Marvan Atapattu finished up with a Test average of 39.02, an impressive figure considering he managed no less than FOUR pairs in his Sri Lanka career.

    Astonishingly, in five of his first six knocks for his country the batsman made a duck. In the other innings, he managed a solitary run.

    Atapattu failed to get off the mark in his Test debut against India in 1990 in Chandigarh, a match Sri Lanka lost by an innings.

    He had to wait nearly two years to play again, finally getting off the mark in the second innings against Australia.

    Another period the team followed, with the right-hander then recalled to face India in February of 1994. He marked the occasion with another pair, dismissed both times by Rajesh Chauhan.

    Atapattu did not appear in another Test until over three years later. The runs did begin to flow, and he made his first century against old rivals India in November of 1997.

    However, he was not quite done with registering pairs just yet.

    Atapattu could not muster a run in the third Test against England in 2001, then was dismissed twice for globes by Shoaib Akhtar in the series opener against Pakistan in 2004.


The Ashes 2013: England will whitewash panicking Australia 5-0, says bullish Sir Ian Botham

Sir Ian Botham on the Ashes: why England will win 5-0

Andy Flower’s side will be looking for their first hat-trick of Ashes triumphs since ‘Botham’s Ashes’ in 1981 and the England legend believes they could follow up victory this summer by retaining the urn both in the winter and the summer of 2015.

“I’m loving it. I absolutely adore it,” Botham said of Australia’s recent difficulties. “Over the years, we’ve had to put up with Australian commentators here enjoying it and gloating. Well, see how they enjoy it for the next few years.”

Botham claimed this summer could even witness England’s first ever whitewash over their arch rivals in the 131-year history of multi-Test series between the countries.

“I don’t see Australia competing with England for a little while, a few years yet,” said Botham, who laughed off former Australia captain Steve Waugh’s suggestion that the tourists could repeat their surprise 1989 success.

“Ask Steve Waugh if he’s going to put his house on it. I don’t think he will. I actually do think England, if the weather does stay fine, could whitewash them. But they need the weather. That’ll be the only thing, I think, that stops them.”

Australia’s squad includes Chris Rogers – who has just one Test cap to his name – and Brad Haddin, both of whom are 35. Ricky Ponting, 38, and Mike Hussey, 37, also snubbed the chance to come retirement for this summer’s tour.

Botham said: “They appear, to me, to be struggling in quite a few departments at this stage. They’ve brought back players that are 35 years of age – never even heard of in Australia before.

“They even approached – we believe – Hussey and Ponting to see if they would come back and consider playing. Well, that’s not the Australia I know. That’s panic.”

The tourists also arrive in England beset by disciplinary problems in the wake of their 4-0 whitewash in India.

“We saw that with them all being sent home because they hadn’t been doing their homework,” said Botham, who was bullish about England’s own difficulties, in particular over the fitness of Kevin Pietersen, who is in a race against time to recover from the knee injury that has sidelined him since March.

“I have no doubts whatsoever that Pietersen will be walking out with that England side for the first Test at Trent Bridge,” said Botham, speaking yesterday in his role as an official Unibet ambassador, playing down the impact almost four months without cricket might have on the 32-year-old’s game.

“A player of that quality and that ability, nothing to worry about at all. He intimidates the opposition and, in one session, he can win a game. There aren’t many players in world cricket who can do that nowadays, but he can.”

Sir Ian Botham is an official Unibet ambassador. Visit Unibet’s new website at for the latest offers and free bets on this summer’s biggest sporting events.


A look back at ‘Botham’s Ashes’ and the first ‘miracle of Headingley’

Sir Ian Botham on the Ashes: why England will win 5-0

For almost three decades, the events of the 1981 Test series between England and Australia have held an unimpeachable place in the cricketing landscape.

For English fans, it represents a magical moment of triumph in adversity, for Australians a nagging sore that never quite healed. For neutrals it has long provided hope for many an unly ‘what if’ story. At its heart stood Sir Ian Botham.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look back at ‘Botham’s Ashes’.

A new low

Ian Botham inspired England to an unly win in the 3rd Test (PA Archive)

The 51st Ashes series began in inauspicious fashion for the man who would later take the entire contest by the scruff of the neck.

Botham had been struggling as both player and captain leading into the series and promptly oversaw a four-wicket defeat at Trent Bridge as the tourists seized the initiative in a low-scoring game where ball taunted bat.

At Lord’s the star all-rounder was a shadow of himself, dismissed for a duck in each innings in a draw that brought him to the cusp of being sacked. In the end he pre-empted the decision, falling on his sword and briefly throwing his own future in the air.

Brearley’s back

Botham (left) was revitalised by Mike Brearley (PA Archive)

The England dressing room was not lacking in strong characters at the time – containing past or future captains in Geoff Boycott, Graham Gooch, Mike Gatting, David Gower and Bob Willis – but the decision to tempt Botham’s predecessor, Mike Brearley, retirement proved inspired. He brought calmness, respect and authority to a sinking ship and, even more importantly, persuaded Botham to commit. Brearley’s ability to turn a jaded skipper into an ebullient match-winner was about to pay off in spades.

The ‘miracle of Headingley’

Botham hits out at Headingley (PA Archive)

While Botham’s form immediately bounced back – six wickets in the first innings at Leeds and 50 with the bat – England still seemed hopelessly outmatched as they were made to follow-on with a 227-run deficit.

When Gooch fell early the now unforgettable odds were flashed on the scoreboard, Brearley’s men priced at a notional, almost spiteful 500/1.

Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh were among those who were tempted to part with a few pounds (£10 and £5 respectively), inspired more by mischievousness than entrepreneurial spirit.

The bookmakers looked safe when Graham Dilley joined Botham at 137 for seven, their side still 92 adrift, but the hopelessness of the situation inspired one of the most remarkable displays of hitting ever seen. Botham finished 149 not out, with 27 fours and a six to conjure a glimmer of hope.

Big, bad Bob

Botham’s defiance had set up the equation – a modest chase of 130 – but it took his ally, Willis, to finally solve it.

The paceman, who died in December, had a long and proud career on the field and as a beloved broadcaster but he was best remembered for his inspired spell of eight for 43, roaring in and tearing through whatever was left of Australia’s hopes. They were routed for 111, defeated by 18 runs and bloodied by a knockout punch they had never considered.

Finishing touches

  • 399 runs
  • 34 wickets
  • 12 catches

The entire tone of the series had changed and England, led astutely by Brearley and bouncing off the energy of a reinvigorated Botham, were not about to let the pendulum swing again.

The talisman left his mark everywhere he went – a stunning sequence of five for one to settle the Edgbaston Test, another century in a winning cause at Old Trafford and a 10-wicket match at The Oval.

England had won 3-1 and Botham had earned an indelible place in history.

History repeating

Ben Stokes produced a Botham-esque innings at Headingley in 2019 (Mike Egerton/PA)

The saying goes that lightning never strikes twice in the same place, but Ben Stokes disproved that logic when he channelled Botham in a quite astonishing Ashes masterpiece back at Headingley last year. His jaw-dropping 135 not out, complete with last-wicket stand of 76 alongside Jack Leach, was every bit as improbable and exhilarating as its spiritual predecessor.


Sir Ian Botham on the Ashes: why England will win 5-0

Sir Ian Botham on the Ashes: why England will win 5-0

Former England cricket star and veteran charity fundraiser Ian Botham walked 257km across Sri Lanka at the start of November to raise funds and awareness for the victims of both the 2004 tsunami and the war in the country.

He was accompanied by sportsmen including Sri Lanka cricketers Muttiah Muralitharan, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, South African rugby international Morné du Plessis and Aussie cricket legends Steve Waugh and Allan Border.

MF spoke to him about what drives a sporting icon to put his body on the line at 57 and his bullish predictions for England down under.

What inspired you to take on this challenge in Sri Lanka?

The tsunami of 2004 devastated parts of this country. It killed 35,000 people and displaced over half a million. I went to Sri Lanka on behalf of Laureus Sport For Good Foundation, to assess the situation and I saw how the creation of a sports-based project in the town of Seenigama could help rebuild the community.

I heard so many heartbreaking stories. I met a woman who had been clinging to her children from high in a tree and had to decide which one to let go or all three of them would have died. I got in touch with my friend Kushil Gunasekera, founder of the Foundation of Goodness, and ultimately ended up walking the length of the country to raise money and awareness for the causes.

Along with Laureus and the Foundation of Goodness, I’m aiming to replicate the success of Seenigama in the north of the island where they have even less infrastructure and are suffering from the impact of the war.

How do you prepare physically for a trip such as this?

I look after myself reasonably well anyway, but I started specific training in May, six months ahead of the walk. I am fairly fit these days – I’ve been walking since the 80s – but this time I prepared harder than ever and reckon I have not been so fit for about 30 years. At 57, that’s saying something! In short, it is a lot of walking and not taking many days off.

Sometimes my wife and I would be up and walking at 6am to make sure we got some training in if we had a busy day ahead. I also had a lot of guidance from Dave ‘Rooster’ Roberts, who was the England cricket physio – he now looks after Lancashire – and has kept me in shape for all of my walks.

We have Nick Turner, my ‘number two’, on board too and he is a great asset to the team.

What about nutrition? Is there anything special you have to do?

I do watch what I eat and drink when I’m training, and am lucky in that I have never had a particularly sweet tooth. Curry is another matter and the hotter the better, so I loved the food in Sri Lanka. I can’t think of much I will give up my red wine for, though.

How difficult was this walk among all those you’ve done?

This was my 16th charity walk and possibly the most challenging because we were walking in heats in excess of 40˚C with humidity above 80%. We spread the 260km over eight days and it seemed to get hotter every day.

The key things are to prepare well – Rooster bandages my feet, tends to the odd blister and stretches me into shape [see pic, above] – and then to recover in the correct way. That is largely cooling down, regulating the radiator and rehydrating properly.

I find a nip or two of whisky in the evening helps too.

Is your approach to fitness different now than when you were playing?

Very different. I used to get through just on playing cricket when I was a player and that worked well for me. I played others sports too, football, and never worried about specific training regimes or watching my diet too much.

What is the England team’s approach to fitness now, compared with when you played for England?

It is radically different. I have to say I think they overtrain and put too much stress on their bodies because there always seems to be injury problems these days. I think there is a danger in modern sport of overdoing the sports science side of things and pushing the body too far.

What do you think England’s prospects are in the Ashes series this winter?

I am predicting a convincing 5-0 win for England. It would have been the same score in the summer in England had the Aussies not been saved by the rain and I think conditions will suit us better down under.

Some people have been questioning me over this but Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne always predicted the Aussies would win easily, so now it’s my turn to give them some stick. I am sure the England players will not let me down.

My old mates Allan Border and Steve ‘Tugga’ Waugh were telling me the Aussies can do it – I think the Sri Lanka sun got to them.

Can you tell us any stories from when you were on Ashes tours?

I believe in the old saying ‘what goes on tour stays on tour’ so I am not going to betray any confidences here. But I always enjoyed visiting Australia and we had some good times on and off the pitch.

I love baiting the Aussies, just as they love giving it to us and I wouldn’t expect anything less. I hear Warne’s been knocking us in the build-up again and I say ‘bring it on’.

They have got more to worry about than we do and that is probably why they are being so vocal, to try and unsettle us.
My favourite tour as a player was the 1986-87 Ashes.

We had been written off by the respected cricket journalist Martin Johnson who said, ‘England have only three problems – they can’t bat, they can’t bowl and they can’t field’. So to win that series so convincingly and play so well gave me a lot of satisfaction.

For further details of Botham’s walk visit The Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, Just Giving and Unconditional Passion.

Photos courtesy of Laureus.