Ben Stokes’ second World Cup final performance for the ages, in which he dragged England from the mire as he did in 2019, has people once again debating his place among the pantheon of English cricketing greats.
The likes of Fred Trueman, Sir Ian Botham and James Anderson are all names that can legitimately challenge the current men’s Test skipper. But who comes out on top?
Sportsmail experts Richard Gibson, Nasser Hussain, David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd, Paul Newman and Lawrence Booth assess the merits of each of their candidates below.
Ben Stokes hauled England from the mire for the second time in his career in a World Cup final
Richard Gibson – Ben Stokes
Cricket is a numbers game, but how does it use them to define greatness? Is it the milestones on the honours boards? The personal statistics? Or maybe it is the medals around players’ necks.
Ben Stokes has impressive entries in the first two categories but in the latter he reigns supreme. It is hard to argue against him as England’s greatest match-winner. Twice now in a little over three years, he has been the player to stand firm and carry the team over the line with world titles at stake.
Throw in that astonishing, man-of-the-match hundred to defy Australia at Headingley in the 2019 Ashes and he has been at the centre of the three highest-profile wins in memory.
Stokes has been at the centre of the three highest-profile wins in living English cricket memory
It is not always pretty when elite sportspeople respond under pressure, but what makes them special is that they do respond. Not that Stokes plays for individual glory. The team are at the heart of his every conversation.
A superstar with bat and ball, yes, but his legacy, when his Test revolution eventually comes to an end, might just be that he showed England — a nation bereft of silverware historically — how to win.
Nasser Hussain – James Anderson
The first thing to say is it’s impossible to compare eras. Great players would have been great at any time. I didn’t see Jack Hobbs, Wally Hammond and Sydney Barnes, so I’ll keep this to players in my time.
I can narrow it down to three. I grew up watching Ian Botham do ridiculous things. And the way he did them, from impossible situations with the belief he had, was incredible.
And the argument for Ben Stokes is growing, not least because he has done it in all formats now. I agree with Jos Buttler that Ben would have to be in the conversation, and he could end up England’s greatest cricketer if he carries on doing it in high-pressure situations to win trophies and Tests.
But if I must come up with one name it will be Jimmy Anderson. I don’t think his longevity in Test cricket will be beaten. To play 175 Tests as a fast bowler and take 667 wickets is phenomenal and, at 40, he is still going strong. People will look back on his record and say, ‘How on earth did he do that?’
Jimmy Anderson has dominated the sport for the best part of 15 years – his 667 wickets is an astonishing achievement
David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd – Fred Trueman
The tag of ‘the greatest’ is not one to be dished out lightly.
In the history of sport, only Muhammad Ali has claimed it with justification.
England have had some fantastic players through different eras during my 60 years involved in cricket, and Kevin Pietersen is the best player I’ve seen play for England from the commentary box, because whenever he came out to bat I was on the edge of my seat.
Those who would contend against Pietersen in my lifetime: Andrew Flintoff, Ian Botham, Graham Gooch, Geoffrey Boycott, to name only a few.
Fred Trueman was a ground-breaker and an individual who transcended the sport of cricket
Time dims the memory, though, and you need to go a little further back for the best: Fred Trueman. He was a ground-breaker, as the first man to take 300 Test match wickets. Fred had his own TV show — The Indoor League. He transcended the sport.
But if we are talking about the present day, Stokes is right up there in a similar vein, as a box-office, global cricketer. Someone who is driving the game forward. Someone all young cricketers, male and female, look up to. He is a super lad and a great role model for future generations.
Paul Newman – Sir Ian Botham
I remember writing around the time of the Cape Town Test in 2020 that it was legitimate to talk of Ben Stokes in the same breath as Ian Botham. And the more Stokes carries on putting in major performances to claim world titles, as he did again on Sunday to win the Twenty20 World Cup, the more the case for him being the greatest will become irresistible.
But for now I still cannot look beyond Beefy. Maybe it was because I was young and impressionable when he was in his pomp, but the aura of the man is still unbeatable. Stokes has some way to go to match Botham’s bowling record but Beefy never won a World Cup and never had the opportunity to play Twenty20 cricket.
Sir Ian Botham has long been thought of by England watchers as the greatest of all time
We can only wonder what sort of record he would have had in the modern game. They have both inspired ‘Miracles of Headingley’ but I will go for the man who pulled off the original miracle in 1981, the incomparable Ian Terence Botham.
Lawrence Booth – Wally Hammond
How good was Wally Hammond? Put it this way: in 1928-29, in his second Test in Australia, he made 251 at Sydney aged 25. Next innings, at Melbourne: 200. Next Test, at Adelaide: 119 not out and 177. His tally in that series was 905 — still an England record Down Under. I just wish I had seen him bat.
Instead, I’ll have to rely on the best judges of the time, who reckoned his cover-drive had come from heaven, and his astonishing career record: 7,249 Test runs at 58, with the Second World War robbing him of several years. He made seven Test double-centuries, including a triple in New Zealand, and nine hundreds against Australia. He could also bowl — taking 732 first-class wickets with his seamers — and had a safe pair of hands. Remind you of anyone? Had he played in an era of white-ball cricket, Hammond would have been a star to rank with Ben Stokes.
Wally Hammond’s remarkable record Down Under in 1928-29 is still yet to be beaten by an English player