Ashes 2019: Botham hails hero Stokes as Headingley celebrates stunning Test triumph

By Sports Desk August 25, 2019

Ian Botham hailed Ben Stokes as England's "special one" after his century heroics at Headingley kept the home team alive in the Ashes.

In a performance that evoked memories of Botham's vintage 1981 innings in Leeds, Stokes tore into the Australian attack to transform a match that looked lost.

England's hopeless 67 all out in their first innings left them well off the pace, and when Australia set them 359 to pull off victory it looked highly likely to be out of reach.

When Stuart Broad was ninth man out on 286, England were still 73 short, but Stokes rose to the challenge.

An innings that was built on a foundation of early patience transformed into a Stokes big-hitting masterclass as he repeatedly heaved Australian bowlers to the boundary, his 135 not out including 11 fours and eight sixes.

"It takes a remarkable man," Botham said on Sky Sports. "I said this morning that somebody had to front up and somebody has to be strong.

"I've banged Ben Stokes' drum for a long time now and I know other players, when they've seen him, you think there's something special.

"He's the special one, he is very, very valuable to cricket full stop, not just England."

Botham expressed his fear about the future of Test cricket, given the rise of the limited-overs game, but he believes performances such as that of Stokes can draw much-needed attention to the five-day format.

"Today and maybe every so often you need something really special like that," Botham said. "What he did today, the whole country will be up for it now. You'll see kids playing in every park corner."

Former England opener Geoffrey Boycott said the "magical" innings was a highlight for him of a life watching cricket, calling it "the best I've seen in over 50 years".

Shane Warne, Australia's former superstar leg-spinner, said of Stokes: "He's one of those guys you want in the trenches with you.

"He's one of those guys who trains harder than I've ever seen anyone train.

"He's an amazing cricketer. He's a special talent. You can have all that but still when the opportunity presents itself you need someone to take it.

"If you were to choose one guy in that England side to try to get it done like that, you would choose Ben Stokes.

"But you still have to get it done. It's easy to say all that but to get it done the way he did was just unbelievable."

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    Play was stopped twice before half-time during a comfortable victory for Gareth Southgate's men on Monday, with an address over the Vasil Levski National Stadium urging an end to racist chanting before a number of Bulgaria fans were removed from the ground.

    England players informed the match officials of the discriminatory behaviour and an abandonment looked possible at one stage, although Harry Kane would ultimately round out an emphatic scoreline set in motion by Marcus Rashford's blistering opener and embellished by braces from Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley.

    Henderson exchanged words with Balakov during one of the breaks in play and was aghast when he heard the 53-year-old had stated after the game that the allegations of racism must be "proven", choosing instead to criticise the behaviour of England supporters and a pre-match focus upon a potential for racist incidents.

    "I had a few words with the manager. It wasn't acceptable – something needs to be done," the Liverpool captain told Sky Sports News.

    "He needs to apologise now, really, on behalf of the team and the fans. He knows what was going on. He was asking me what the problem was.

    "When I told him he knew what was going on, it was baffling how he didn't, really. Hopefully he looks back and apologises because anyone watching that game would be disgusted really."

    England discussed whether they should resume the match at half-time and Henderson, angered by what had transpired, took pride in their unanimous response in the face of adversity.

    "I felt angry," he said. "They're my team-mates, my friends who I've known for a long time and I share a dressing room with.

    "It was shocking to see. I was so angry at one point but the game goes on, you've got to switch the focus to the football.

    "At half-time we spoke about it, we wanted to carry on. If one person said they didn't want to go out then we wouldn't have done and that would have been it.

    "But everybody's message was we wanted to make them suffer and not make them win. I felt we did that brilliantly."

  • Kick It Out demands UEFA 'show leadership' after England players receive racial abuse in Bulgaria Kick It Out demands UEFA 'show leadership' after England players receive racial abuse in Bulgaria

    Anti-racism campaigners Kick It Out has slammed UEFA for its handling of England's Euro 2020 qualifier against Bulgaria, and its previous punishments for racial abuse.

    England's 6-0 win on Monday was halted twice in the first half, with the match seemingly set to be abandoned amid chants from sections of Bulgaria's support at Vasil Levski National Stadium, which was partially shut due to previous incidents of racist abuse from some home supporters.

    Gareth Southgate's England elected to come back out for the second half, with a group of Bulgaria fans ejected from the ground during the second stoppage.

    During the first stoppage, a message was read out over the public address system – following UEFA's three-step protocol for tackling incidents of abuse at games.

    However, Kick It Out has questioned why the protocol was not followed afterwards, while criticising UEFA's attempts at tackling racism.

    "We are sickened by the disgusting racist abuse directed at England men's team tonight by Bulgaria supporters – including TV footage which appeared to show Nazi salutes and monkey noises," Kick It Out stated.

    "We applaud Gareth Southgate, his staff and players for the actions taken in reporting the abhorrent abuse, and offer our full support to the entire squad, their families and anyone affected by those appalling scenes.

    "We are encouraged that the protocol was initially enforced by the match officials, but UEFA must explain why players weren't sent to the dressing room during Step Two, as is clearly stated in the rules.

    "TV footage also clearly shows that racist abuse continued in the second half, so it is unacceptable that Step Three was not enforced. This match should have been abandoned by the officials.

    "It's now time for UEFA to step up and show some leadership. For far too long, they have consistently failed to take effective action.

    "The fact Bulgaria are already hosting this game with a partial stadium closure for racist abuse shows that UEFA's sanctions are not fit for purpose.

    "There can be no more pitiful fines or short stadium bans. If UEFA care at all about tackling discrimination – and if the Equal Game campaign means anything – then points deductions and tournament expulsion must follow."

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