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Ian Botham
Cricket Expert and Columnist

Ashes 2013/14: Ben Stokes shows England that it's time to toughen up

There are more emerging players out there hungry to take Test team forward...

Stokes pleased with wicket haul

England must unearth more street-fighters in the mould of Ben Stokes, says Sir Ian Botham.

Flower staying with England

Durham all-rounder Stokes, 22, made his debut in the second Ashes Test and showed his mettle by scoring 120 in the third Test at Perth and taking 6-99 in the first innings of the last Test at Sydney.

He finished the series with 279 runs at an average of 34.87 and 15 wickets at 32.80, his displays prompting former England captain Nasser Hussain to say he could have "a very long career as England's all-rounder".

Botham, who took 383 wickets and scored 5,200 runs in 102 Tests, told Sky Sports that Stokes epitomises the hard-nose attitude England must adopt in the wake of their 5-0 Ashes drubbing.

"I think he's got something about him and he showed that here," he reflected. "He's a street-fighter and he'll get out there and mix it with the best.

"This is a kid who has walked into the team to face Mitchell Johnson, who has had all of our players hopping and jumping around, and he's prepared to rub shoulders with him and give him some back.

"I don't have a problem with that - I think that's good. I like to see face-to-face confrontation so let's have a bit more of it."

Improving

Stokes was one of four players to make their England debut in the Ashes - along with Gary Ballance, Boyd Rankin and Scott Borthwick - after being involved with England's Performance Squad and the Lions, following the path taken by Yorkshire duo Joe Root (23) and Jonny Bairstow (24).

Botham says England is producing enough new talent to enhance the Test team but stressed that emerging players must be introduced to international cricket at the right time.

"The key is improving," he said. "If you look at somewhere like Durham where Graeme Fowler has been involved, they've produced a lot of good cricketers so it can be done and it will be done.

"The key is knowing when and how to bring these guys into the team. How do you feed them in? Who do you need to feed in?

"We are perhaps a little over-cautious with bowlers now - if they cough they've got to go and have an MRI scan. Bowling is quite a tough job at times, so just get out there and bowl.

"We need to toughen up but I do believe that there are players out there who will come through the system; knowing how to introduce them is important.

"Also, there's nothing more frustrating for a 21-year-old than being told 'you haven't got much experience'. Well, he won't get much experience if you don't pick him. So don't be scared to go forward."

Future

End of an era for England

England's next Test series begins on June 12 at Lord's with the first of two games against Sri Lanka, before a five-Test series against India begins at Trent Bridge on July 9.

Wicketkeeper Matt Prior and batsman Root were both axed during the Ashes following a string of below-par displays but Botham and fellow Sky Sports pundit Andrew Strauss are confident that both players will return to the Test team next summer.

"It wouldn't surprise me, knowing Matt as I do, if he had called it on himself as vice-captain," said Botham. "He might have said 'hang on a minute, boys, I'm all over the place; maybe I should have a couple of games off'.

"Maybe that's what he needs; it could well be the case that he comes back better for that. It was a big call and we don't quite know the process that took place."

Strauss said: "I think Root has got a huge, long-term future with England. I think he's a long-term opener, which is why I was a little bit surprised and disappointed that he didn't play in this Test because he's on the outside again."

He added: "That will undermine his confidence to a certain extent. He's got a hard-ish road back; he's got to score runs in Yorkshire at the beginning of the season.

"But I think he's one of those players you can pencil in and say 'we can build a side around him'. He's going to be around for a long time."

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