Sir Ian Botham believes Ben Stokes may be better than he was at the age of 24 after smashing his record this week for England's fastest Test double hundred.
Botham was unstoppable at 24. He had scored six Test hundreds (Stokes has three), taken 153 wickets (Stokes has 47) and was made captain of England.
Stokes has some way to go to match Botham's deeds but he already has the same air of invincibility when in full flow.
"I was captain at 24. Against West Indies. That was fun. As a player he's probably better than I was at 24, I don't know. He'd certainly be up there," said Botham. "The problem is, he's got a lot of very good players around him so it's not quite so easy to take the mantle. I have been a massive fan of Ben Stokes since I first saw him on the international scene - I think he has got enormous potential to go all the way.
"His bowling can only get better. He's got all the attributes: he has got pace, he can swing the ball, he can reverse it, he can bowl orthodox, he is a terrific fielder, close to the bat, in the covers or midwicket, backward point, on the boundary. He is probably master of the three most important assets: batting, bowling and fielding."
Botham can speak with authority about what it is like to be a 24-year-old with the world at your feet and he says Stokes will feel he is England's alpha male following his record-breaking double hundred. "He will feel untouchable. His confidence will be oozing and that will be good for the team as it will ooze on to the team and they will all pick up on that. It's a little bit like being in the jungle - the dominant male lion: the rest feed off it. He'll be the dominant male in that side for a few years to come."
Stokes is a future England captain, according to head coach Trevor Bayliss, but at the moment has the luxury of concentrating on playing cricket. As Botham says, life at this age is simple. "It was fun. And Ben Stokes will be enjoying it as well. You walk out and you empty the bars rather than fill them and it's a nice feeling. Then you get out and you see them all going back in for a beer and you think, 'Sorry, lads: can't do it every day'. And he can't do it every day, either. You have to give him the right to fail."
Botham is fond of Stokes. There is the Durham link, of course, but he also sees himself in the young all-rounder who plays cricket the same aggressive way and does not complicate the game. He has thrived under Bayliss and assistant coach Paul Farbrace, and Botham hopes he is left alone to develop his own way. "Let him go. Mike Brearley did absolutely the same with me," he said. "I didn't think too much, to be honest with you. There is too much thinking about the game, too much analysis, looking at computers. I don't need to look at a computer to know I've played a bad shot."
Even an old pro such as Botham stood back and enjoyed Stokes battering South Africa's bowlers. "That was one of those moments when you can say, 'I was there and I saw it'," he said. "When you think back to Headingley '81, I know there were about 10,000 people in the ground but I have met 31/2 million who were there, but I was there for Ben Stokes."
What about handling the fame? "It will change his life. I don't think it will affect Ben that much," Botham said. "They're protected a lot more now than we were. Nowadays, there is not a word said without someone sitting on his wing, being briefed. I think sportsmen now in general all become a little singular. It's all very much what you expect them to say. I think Ben Stokes will probably say what he actually thinks."