Head­in­g­ley hero on be­ing named Eng­land cap­tain

Eng­land hon­our re­wards his ded­i­ca­tion since Bristol in­ci­dent All-rounder to set ex­am­ple for ‘at­ti­tude and com­mit­ment’

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Nick Hoult chief cricket cor­re­spon­dent

How do you fol­low a stel­lar 2019 sum­mer that brought a World Cup fi­nal man-of-the-match medal, Head­in­g­ley Ashes hero­ics and win­ning the BBC Sports Per­son­al­ity of the Year? If you are Ben Stokes then it is by cap­tain­ing Eng­land in 2020.

It may only be for one game while Joe Root is on pa­ter­nity leave, which looks in­creas­ingly likely to clash with next week’s first Test against West Indies, but it fur­ther re­in­forces Stokes’s stand­ing in English cricket and is the fi­nal con­fir­ma­tion of the turn­around in his life.

“Ob­vi­ously, get­ting the op­por­tu­nity to cap­tain Eng­land is a huge hon­our – even if it’s only the once, you can still say, ‘Yeah, I’ve cap­tained Eng­land’. It’s some­thing I’m re­ally look­ing for­ward to if the op­por­tu­nity presents it­self,” he said from the team’s train­ing camp in Southamp­ton.

“I’ve never set a goal out to want to be a cap­tain. If I’m be­ing hon­est, I’m not one of those that peo­ple would nec­es­sar­ily as­so­ciate [as] the next Eng­land cap­tain. That’s what ev­ery­one says. It’s never been a goal, but I’m re­ally look­ing for­ward to the op­por­tu­nity of do­ing it.”

Stokes has re­deemed him­self over and over since his Bristol night­club in­ci­dent of 2017, to the point where he was the ob­vi­ous choice to be Root’s deputy last win­ter, tak­ing over the job from Jos But­tler. That was a wise move, for the last thing But­tler needs right now is cap­taincy while play­ing for his place in the side.

Stokes has had a long time to re­flect on Bristol, when he was in­volved in a brawl but later found not guilty of af­fray, and how he nearly lost ev­ery­thing.

“Af­ter that hap­pened, it was, ‘Right, what am I go­ing to do from this point for­ward? How am I go­ing to carry and con­duct my­self?’ he told Sky. “I’m quite proud to say I’m in this sit­u­a­tion through hard work and de­ter­mi­na­tion. I wanted to get bet­ter and it’s been no fluke. It’s been the hard work and com­mit­ment I’ve shown.

“I don’t nor­mally like to speak about my­self in this way but, look­ing back, I’m proud of what I’ve been able to do since that in­ci­dent hap­pened. It’s been through com­plete ded­i­ca­tion and hard work to­wards the job I do.”

Stokes is the man oth­ers fol­low off the field, so it is no sur­prise he was the one to pay out more than £3,000 this week to book the play­ers’ tee-times at the Ageas Bowl golf course, their only per­mis­si­ble es­cape from their biose­cure “bub­ble”.

But what style of cap­taincy can we ex­pect from Stokes, who has done the job only three times be­fore, once for Durham Un­der-17s and twice for their academy side?

“Nine slips and a gully, prob­a­bly,” he joked. So, at­tack­ing then, but the re­cent his­tory of star all-rounders cap­tain­ing Eng­land is far from glo­ri­ous, with Sir Ian Botham and An­drew Flintoff strug­gling to cope with an­other de­mand on top of win­ning games with bat and ball.

There is no rea­son to think he will go the same way, but Stu­art Broad sug­gested at the week­end the dif­fi­culty for Stokes will be re­sist­ing the temp­ta­tion to roll up his sleeves and bowl his body into the ground if his side are in trou­ble.

Stokes said: “I hope that I al­ways try to set the ex­am­ple in terms of at­ti­tude and com­mit­ment to­wards what I do. Hav­ing the added re­spon­si­bil­ity of be­ing a cap­tain also comes with pres­sure, in terms of mak­ing de­ci­sions, es­pe­cially through tough pe­ri­ods of the game, which Test cricket can throw at you.

“If I have the ball or bat in my hand, I would like to think I am still go­ing to have that same men­tal­ity as al­ways. I have been in so many dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions on the field as a bowler and a bat­ter that I can re­late back to them. I can ask, ‘What would Joe ex­pect me to do in this sit­u­a­tion?’ It is a tough one to know if you are feel­ing good as a bowler, when to put your­self on or keep your­self on.”

Stokes is the sup­porter’s hero, the player ev­ery­one wants to watch, but even though he clearly feeds off the buzz, he proved in the World Cup fi­nal, and dur­ing the re­build­ing phase of his Head­in­g­ley in­nings, that he can shut it out and zone in on the job at hand, which is what will be re­quired be­hind closed doors in empty sta­di­ums.

“The fact that there’s not go­ing to be a crowd there, I don’t think we can use that as an ex­cuse for our lev­els of in­ten­sity, be­cause we’re walk­ing on to the field rep­re­sent­ing Eng­land. Thou­sands of peo­ple would give their right arm to be able to do what we do ev­ery day,” Stokes said.

“Whether or not that’s in front of a full house, or in front of no crowd, it shouldn’t mat­ter. You’ve got the three li­ons on your chest. It is a com­pletely dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tion to what we’re used to, but I think once we get out there and re­alise we’re in a Test match rep­re­sent­ing Eng­land, I think ev­ery­body will be fine.”

Eng­land step up prepa­ra­tions to­mor­row, with the start of their only prac­tice match – an in­trasquad game over three days, af­ter which a squad of around 20 play­ers for the first Test will be an­nounced.

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