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Renewed focus allows Stokes to channel father’s spirit and inspire England
The all-rounder has bounced back from a World T20 nightmare and off-field trouble to play two momentous innings this summer.
Ben Stokes finally allowed the mask to slip, emitting a guttural roar barely audible over the Headingley din after hammering Pat Cummins through the covers for four to keep England’s Ashes hopes alive.
As he celebrated with Jack Leach after pulling off a one-wicket heist over Australia in a breathtaking climax, Stokes’ 135 not out was being eulogised as the best ever innings by an Englishman, only five weeks on from his World Cup heroics.
Having channelled the derring-do of Sir Ian Botham’s 1981 exploits at the same venue, what was striking when he spoke later was his attempt to deflect attention from himself, insisting personal fulfilment was a distant second to the collective aim.
That was evidenced when he neither raised his bat nor removed his helmet upon reaching his century. There was still a job to do, with 33 runs still required, and only when it was completed did Stokes unleash his emotions.
“I looked at the bigger picture,” he said. “There was still a lot more runs to get. Personal milestones, especially in that situation, mean absolutely nothing.
“I was not bothered about how many runs I was on, it was all about making sure we got over the line. I did not really care to be honest.”
Such a holistic and uncompromising approach may have been instilled in him from his early days, with Stokes once revealing his father Ged had a finger susceptible to frequent dislocation amputated so he could continue to play rugby league for Workington Town.
Born in Christchurch, New Zealand, to Deb and Ged on June 4, 1991, Stokes’ father would uproot the family to the other side of the world when his son was 12 to return to the Cumbrian club in a head coach capacity.
His former PE teacher Chris Hayes last month told the PA news agency he remembered Stokes as “a naturally able sportsman, physically very able and highly co-ordinated” before adding: “I was pretty convinced he would be a professional cricketer.”
That came to fruition when he was 17, having been snapped up by Durham, and he made a near-instant impact on his senior debut when he bowled Mark Ramprakash with his third delivery in a List A fixture.
England soon came calling and he dipped his toes into both international white-ball formats not long after turning 20, although he and Matt Coles were sent home from a Lions tour for breaking rules on drinking in February 2013.
The misdemeanour failed to halt Stokes’ upward career trajectory. By the end of the year he was getting his first taste of the Ashes, marking his second Test with a defiant maiden international century in a losing cause in Perth.
The following year marked a downturn in fortunes, ruled out of the 2014 World Twenty20 because of a broken hand he sustained by punching a locker in a fit of pique before a loss of form led to him being dropped from the Test and one-day sides.
He was brought back into the international fold after being a notable absentee for the 2015 World Cup disaster and duly cemented his place in all forms with a remarkable 85-ball Test ton against New Zealand at Lord’s.
A six-wicket haul was instrumental in England regaining the 2015 Ashes at Trent Bridge while he registered the second-fastest double-century in history with a thunderous 258 during the winter tour to South Africa.
Carlos Brathwaite pricked his aura in the 2016 World Twenty20 final in Mumbai while worse was to follow when he was arrested the following year for his role in a melee outside a Bristol nightclub.
The incident sent shockwaves through cricket and led to Stokes’ omission from the 2017-18 Ashes tour. He was found not guilty of affray last summer following a well-publicised trial, though he was fined by the England and Wales Cricket Board’s Cricket Discipline Commission because of the street fight and some unsavoury social media posts.
Having also lost the Test vice-captaincy following the saga – he has since regained it – there was a more mature edge to Stokes on his return. Gone were the rambunctious edges to his game in favour of more control, especially with the bat.
He lit the touch paper in the World Cup opener with an outrageous catch but saved his best for last. First his 84 not out led England to what seemed an improbable tie against New Zealand before he was among those who starred in the dramatic super over at Lord’s.
Many thought it would prove a career highlight but barely a month on he was back at the coalface, carrying England to yet another scarcely believable victory in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.