An Oxford don once said that undergraduates are like decimals - they recur. Well, cricketers are like fractions - they don't

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The headline was big, even by tabloid standards. "BEEFY II" it said. "Dominic Cork," the text explained, "was saluted as the new Ian Botham last night after giving England their first win over the West Indies at Lord's for 38 years..."

Who was doing the saluting was not revealed. Perhaps it was just the other papers. This was in the Mirror. But the words "new" and "Botham" also appeared in close proximity to each other in the Sun, Star, Today and Sunday Times.

Next day, the Mirror was at it again. Its cricket columnist remarked: "All sorts of characters have been saddled with the burden of being labelled the New Beefy...all have had a bash in different ways...but very rarely have they come up with a performance that comes anywhere near Cork's super show at Lord's." The columnist's name? Ian Botham.

Botham is right to say that Cork is not the first "new Botham". He is not even the first this year. Six months ago, Darren Gough took six wickets in an innings and made a fifty in the same Test against Australia.

At the end of that match, Mike Atherton said: "Please don't call him the new Botham. Too many have lived and died by that. Just say he is the first Darren Gough." As pleas to the media go, this had as much chance of being heeded as a request from Elizabeth Hurley to be left alone.

People do not talk about the new Gooch, the new Gower, the new Willis or Knott or Underwood or Brearley. Brian Lara is not saluted as the new Viv Richards. But given half an excuse, they will talk, without fail, about the new Botham.

It is very odd. In a hundred years of Test cricket before Botham came along, England never produced anyone remotely like him. So why should they produce another within a generation?

An Oxford don once said that undergraduates are like decimals - they recur. Well, cricketers are like fractions - they don't. Cork may have got 50 runs and eight wickets in the same Test match, but he is no more the new Botham than Paul Allott was in 1985, because he wore his hair long at the back and short at the sides.

As this example suggests, cricketers do imitate each other. Gough's inswinging yorker owes something to Waqar Younis's toe ball, and the off-balance over-the-head hook shot which got him out in Sydney and at Headingley is reminiscent of the one which kept not quite getting Botham out against Lillee and Lawson in 1981. He has some of Botham's boyish bravado, his rampant self-belief, but he does not field at second slip, or score hundreds and, as Atherton says, it would be wrong to expect him to.

It is much the same with Cork, although unlike Gough, whose boyhood hero was Glenn Hoddle, Cork is a longstanding Botham fan. His earliest sporting memory is of being on holiday in Wales at the age of nine, and listening to Headingley '81 on the car radio. Eleven years later he made his England debut in a one-day game against Pakistan at The Oval, and Botham, by a neat coincidence, was in the team too, making his final international appearance. (They got one wicket between them, and neither batted.)

Cork keeps a picture of Botham on his mantelpiece, bowls medium-paced outswingers with verve and aggression, and judging by his three wickets in the recent Lord's one- dayer, he has a touch of the old boy's "golden arm" - the knack of persuading good batsmen to greet bad balls with worse shots. However, he too is not about to make a Test hundred. It was a mark of his standing as a batsman that he received good reviews for making 23 and 30. Like Gough, he is a bowler who bats a bit. Like most players, he is his own person.

Cricket reveals character, and no two cricket characters I have seen were very alike. If you're not convinced, think of some brothers - twins, even. The Waughs, born the same day, raised the same way: if any pair of players were going to be alike, it should be these two. Both are batsmen who bowl medium-pace, and field close to the wicket. Both have Test averages in the mid-forties (higher against England). But no regular viewer would mistake one for the other. Mark is a natural, a crowd-pleaser, an amiable dreamer. Steve is a pragmatist, a leader, an unsmiling fighter.

You can understand people getting carried away. It is not often that England win a Test at Lord's. And comparison may be invidious, but it's also informative - as long as we accept that any parallels are partial and fleeting. And, if they involve Botham, a millstone. After that dream start, Cork is going to have enough trouble living up to his own Test record, never mind that of England's greatest all-round cricketer.

Luckily for Cork, another all-rounder has now bobbed on to the England scene. My tip for the third Test is that Mike Watkinson will play, get a couple of wickets and a few runs, and find himself being saluted as the new Dominic Cork.

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