Sir Ian Botham believes Ben Stokes’ bowling will be “crucial” to England’s chances of winning the Ashes.

The legendary all-rounder says he sincerely hopes the Cumbrian is fit enough to bowl at full tilt in Australia.

Botham said he never doubted Cockermouth star Stokes would return for the Ashes despite the 30-year-old taking a break of several months earlier this year to focus on his mental well-being and rest his injured finger.

The Test series starts next month and Botham said: “First and foremost, I never thought he wouldn’t be there,” said Botham, who is chairman of Stokes’ county, Durham.

“That’s not inside information, because we didn’t see him at Durham until after the second operation.

“Ben is a matchwinner. I hope that he’s fit enough to bowl, and strong enough, because I think that will be crucial - because 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.”

Botham has also urged England’s selectors “to be brave” when weighing up their bowling attack.

“There’s no point in us turning up with four 80-mile-an-hour bowlers because that Kookaburra ball, after 10 overs, is going to get smashed to all parts at that pace,” the former England all-rounder added to the Press Association.

“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 Stuart Broad playing all the Tests.”