When I look back at the summer when Ben Stokes effected a remarkable turnaround in England’s fortunes in Test cricket, I keep returning to memories of another era. It was 2013, and Stokes and I were in Australia, his first tour of the England Lions as a player and my first as a batting coach. He was sent home after returning very late one evening or, more accurately, early one morning.
David Parsons, the England and Wales Cricket Board’s performance director, and the first-team coach, Andy Flower, were over by then and sat in on the disciplinary meeting. The feeling at the meeting was that Stokes was not displeased at all and when it was over and he got up to leave, Flower – who had remained silent until then – told him: “You don’t want to. Play for England, do you? Before he walked out the door, Stokes replied: “Just look at me mate.”
He made his Test debut later this year and we’ve been watching him ever since.
I also remember the incident at Bristol and how Stokes went through the mill. The aftermath of the incident and the court case that followed was horrific for her and it took a strong character to get through it. He returned to the international team for the one-day tour of New Zealand in 2018, which included me.
We had a team meeting at the start of the trip and as it started Trevor Bayless told the group that Stokes would like to say something. He said a few words about how much it meant to him to be re-elected and he got quite emotional. I think Bellis interjected to keep him from tearing up “Okay, Stuckey, that’s enough.”
But Stokes said: “No, I’m not finished yet.” Immediately Moeen Ali said: “Okay, Stokey, no need to punch.” The whole room erupted in laughter. I remember that moment and the warmth he showed in the group.
He is, to put it mildly, not your typical England Test captain. He is known for drinking and smoking, fighting, and being rude. He is covered in tattoos and is not privately educated. I think we weren’t sure what we were going to achieve with him – other great all-rounders like Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff have found it difficult to navigate the dual demands of leadership and being the heart of the team in both fields. But the Stoics are natural leaders.
The management of some players has been particularly surprising. He was direct and firm with Ollie Robinson, but this was done in terms of praising the bowler’s ability and skill, while having no doubts about the physical demands of international cricket, and he encouraged immediate improvement. . He has welcomed back Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, excited them about the future and bought into a new mindset.
Jonny Bairstow’s excellence over the summer has largely depended on the environment Stokes has created, which has allowed him to be aggressive in the middle order, knowing that if he gets it wrong the management is fully behind him. Is.
Young players like Ollie Pope and Zac Crowley look up to a captain who has been through the ups and downs of the international game and who has great empathy for the challenges faced as young players. It’s clear when I’ve talked to players how much they’ll use the sports clutch to get through a brick wall for him.
The second part of a captain’s job is on the field and in terms of the flow of matches, changes in bowling timing, and reading the nuances of field placement, he seems to be getting most things right. As a bowler, he has handled his workload brilliantly and still has a big impact.
He has shown himself to have a really good feel for things and it is notable that on occasions when things were not going England’s way – for example, against a good Indian team at Edgbaston, where England Had a big lead in the first innings. The head was held high.
He doesn’t have everything right. I saw him at Durham at the start of the season and he told me that his players would only play with the freedom they wanted if he, as a leader, walked the walk. As a batsman he has certainly done so, but with mixed results.
At Old Trafford, he produced innings of great class and character when the team needed him and the pressure was on, but often his cavalier approach meant he surrendered his wicket too easily. At Edgbaston, he was dropped at extra cover, dropped at mid-off, and then finally caught. At the oval, he hit a skier, got away with it, and then played the loosest waft you’ve ever seen, caught the slip, and walked away like he didn’t even care.
It will be very critical in the circumstances but he is such a good player that we expect high standards. As captain, some of his innings have not only failed to set the right example but have been a bad example for the group.
There are bigger challenges ahead – not least the Ashes series next summer. The opponents England have beaten in the past few months include a fading New Zealand and a South African side with one of the weakest batting line-ups I have seen from a major nation.
Of his first eight batsmen at The Oval, only captain Dean Elgar played more than 10 Tests. This was partly down to injuries but it should be a real concern for South Africa, especially as they don’t have much Test cricket in the next few years and there is a feeling that this production line has given some A long time ago, Graeme Smith created Herschel Gibbs. , Hashim Amla and Jonty Rhodes have dried up. Worse, it feels like their Test team is not just lacking in talent, but in disinterest.
Thanks to Stokes and his improved and entertaining side, England seems in no danger of suffering that fate.