Headingley hero on being named England captain
England honour rewards his dedication since Bristol incident All-rounder to set example for ‘attitude and commitment’
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.