Sir Ian Botham ‘hopes’ England have the ‘mental strength’ to win back the Ashes in Australia and insists Ben Stokes’ return is a major boost to Joe Root’s side.
The 2021-22 Ashes series starts on December 8 in Brisbane, with Tests in Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Perth to follow.
England have only won one Ashes series in Australia since 1987 but have been boosted by the return of star all-rounder and former vice-captain Stokes.
The 30-year-old missed England’s home Test series against India last summer after taking an indefinite break from cricket to prioritise his mental health and recover from a finger injury.
‘First and foremost, I never thought he [Stokes] wouldn’t be there and that’s not inside information, because we didn’t see him at Durham until after the second operation,’ England legend Botham told the Inside the Tour podcast.
‘Ben is a match-winner. I hope that he’s fit enough to bowl and strong enough because I think that will be crucial. He’s an aggressive bowler.
‘Everyone talks about his batting – we know about that – but I think his bowling needs to be used in four or five over bursts on those Australian pitches when the ball is reasonably new as well.’
England boast a dismal record in Australia and Botham fears for the current squad if they go 1-0 down in Brisbane.
‘England cannot afford to lose that first Test. And that’s why they play that first Test to Brisbane,’ the 65-year-old added.
‘It’s not a coincidence, it’s because it’s their fortress. And, if you’re going to win a series, it makes a hell of a lot harder for the team we playing against if you thrash them in the first game.
‘Australia do well there. They’ve always done well there. England need to play well in that first Test. 250 all-out is not going to help, and we’ve got to be realistic about that.
‘If you’re going to win a Test in Australia, you need to score your runs in the first innings and put them under some form of pressure. You need 400-plus and that’s what they’ve got to do.
‘So, we’ll see how it goes. I hope that it works out that way. But the Australians are going to come very hard England, as they always do.
‘They’ll be in their face and I hope that they [England] have the mental strength to cope with that. If they have that, they’ve got a real chance.’
Botham has also urged England to rotate their bowlers and use record wicket-taker James Anderson smartly as they look to regain the Ashes.
‘There’s no point in turning up with four 80mph bowlers because once that Kookaburra ball goes soft after 10 overs it’s going to get smashed to all parts at that pace,’ the former all-rounder said.
‘You need people like Mark Wood, Ben Stokes, Ollie Robinson – these are the guys that are going to play.
‘Jimmy [Anderson] is going to play, but I don’t see him playing all the Tests, and I certainly don’t see Broady [Stuart Broad] playing all the Tests.
‘So, it’s a chance for these other guys and I think England have to be brave in their selection. With Jimmy, you definitely play him in Adelaide for the day-night match and then pick and choose how you want to do it.
‘You’ve got to look after Jimmy’s, he’s what, 39 now, so he needs a little bit of TLC, but he will have a part to play. Above everything else, he’s a senior pro and he can offer so much advice to the other guys, so essential he’s there.’
While history is against England, Australia have their own issues to deal with after Tim Paine stepped down as captain last week over a historical investigation into sexually explicit texts to a female colleague.
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