Botham: Virat Kohli an ambassador, Ben Stokes most exciting

England legend Ian Botham relished the phase when cricket had four grand all-rounders: Kapil Dev, Imran Khan, Richard Hadlee and him.

England all-rounder Ben Stokes and India captain Virat Kohli greet each other during an IPL match.   -  FILE PHOTO/ K. MURALI KUMAR

In lockdown times, it won’t be a bad idea to be in isolation with Virat Kohli, the best batsman in contemporary cricket, even though English legend Ian Botham rates Ben Stokes as the “most exciting cricketer in world cricket today.”

Botham, 64, was in conversation with Vivek Atray and Chitranjan Agarwal of Playwrite and appeared in good spirits to reflect on the good old time spent with David Gower and Bob Willis to discussing some of his favourites from the game.

For a generation or more, Botham was the game changer for a long time. He relished the phase when cricket had four grand all-rounders in Kapil Dev, Imran Khan, Richard Hadlee and himself. “It was a privilege to play in that era. People were spoiled for all-rounders. After all, all-rounders don’t grow on trees. You have to be good enough to play as a bowler or a batsman and there was lot of rivalry among us.”

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Botham, who aggregated 5,200 runs (14 centuries) and 383 wickets, had kind words for Kapil. “He bowled hours and those overs on unresponsive pitches was something. I have lot of admiration for Kaps.” There was huge praise for Sachin Tendulkar too. “Sachin set the bar so high and we knew no one was going to get there. VVS (Laxman), Rahul Dravid, (Virender) Sehwag were all great players but the bar set by Sachin was impossibly high.”

He was all praise for India captain Kohli. “Virat is a great ambassador for Indian cricket. He’s competitive and tough. He’s the new Indian cricketer taking the game to the opposition. Virat stands up for his players and I like this quality. He’s buzzing, setting standards, expecting the rest of the team to follow. I would like to spend more time with him, a day with him.”

Botham rated Stokes the best in today’s cricket. “You can’t manufacture an all-rounder. The workload on them is double. He’s the most exciting player in world cricket at the moment. I like to think I played in the same vein as Ben.”

How would he describe himself? “An entertainer. I would like people to leave the bars when I go out to bat and not the other way round.”

David Gower and Bob Willis, both “great friends”, shared the microphone in the commentators’ box with Botham. “David was one of the most talented cricketers I played with. He found batting too easy and would get himself out many a time. Bob was one of my best friends. He was always there when I needed someone to talk to. We had the same taste for wine. Bob was a special friend. Not a day passes when he doesn’t flash through in my memories. He was unique.”

How could any conversation with Botham end without a reference to Mike Brearley, the captain who got the best out of him in the epic Ashes triumph of 1981 at Leeds. England followed on but went on to win the Test courtesy Botham (6/95, 149 not out, 1/14) and Willis (0/72 and 8/43). “Brearley had a degree in people. He may not have got picked today, there are no such luxuries, but he was quite unique. He was like Dr. Spock of Star Trek, who could get into people’s mind. As a captain he always looked at the bigger picture.”

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Even though Botham described Sunil Gavaskar as “what a magnificent player” he picked Viv Richards as the best batsman he had seen or bowled to. “Viv could adapt to any format or any pitch. Very dangerous batsman. For bowlers, I would pick from any of the 12 from West Indies, especially Joel Garner, and Dennis Lillee from outside the Caribbean.” His favourite fielders were “Viv, Ross Edwards and Jonty Rhodes.”

Botham cautioned against giving all the importance to T20 cricket. “T20 has a place on world cricket. It’s a great way to bring the youngsters to play and watch the razzmattaz. But we should be careful international cricket doesn’t get swallowed up by T20. Test cricket is the ultimate. It tests you physically, mentally and puts all kinds of stress on the body as conditions change, pitches change. If we were to lose Test cricket we lose cricket as we know it. T20 essentially is for flat wicket bullies.”

A golf addict now, Botham, who would not mind being addressed as Ian Paaji, signed off with a promise to return and play in Chandigarh, the home town of Shubhankar Sharma. “I look forward to catch up with him at Dunhill.”

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