Nat­u­ral leader’s in­nate feel­ing for game trumps in­ex­pe­ri­ence

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Tim Wig­more

Ben Stokes is un­able to call on vast lead­er­ship ex­pe­ri­ence as he pre­pares to be­come Eng­land’s 81st Test cap­tain. The last time he led a side was in May 2008 when the Durham academy played in South La­nark­shire against Scot­land Un­der-19s.

All told, his cap­taincy ex­pe­ri­ence com­prises just two other games – one for Durham Un­der-17s, and one for their academy. Even at Cock­er­mouth, where he played as a boy, Stokes was not cap­tain. “He didn’t re­ally have a de­sire to be,” says Jon Gibson, Stokes’s coach at the North West club.

“He thought a lot about his own tac­tics, which was to play at­tack­ing cricket and to make sure that you were chal­leng­ing the op­po­si­tion. But I don’t re­mem­ber any­thing specif­i­cally about, ‘I think we should have three slips, I think we should change the bowl­ing, I think we should do this, or do that’. He just did ev­ery­thing he could to win.”

While his tac­ti­cal prow­ess was sec­ondary to his on-field ex­plo­sive­ness, Stokes’s coaches in the Durham academy re­garded him as among the shrewdest for his age. “I al­ways said to the other coaches he had qual­i­ties as a cap­tain,” says Ge­off Cook, Stokes’s coach with the Durham academy and then the first team. “Some­times those qual­i­ties were over­shad­owed by his gen­eral be­hav­iour at that stage, but in terms of the qual­i­ties that are needed for cap­taincy, in terms of tac­ti­cal aware­ness, he was al­ways well ahead of ev­ery­body.”

Stokes’s team-mates no­ticed the same. “He was al­ways above his age in terms of ma­tu­rity cricket-wise,” says Paul Hind­march, who played in Stokes’s two games as Durham academy cap­tain. “He was al­ways a switched-on crick­eter.

“Cap­tains – you want some­one who is re­spected in the dress­ing room, who wants to re­ally lead from the front. Those are the two most im­por­tant things and he re­ally does that, so ev­ery­one will play for him. He’ll very much lead by ex­am­ple.”

Still, there was no grand plan be­hind Stokes’s el­e­va­tion for Durham academy’s two games against Scot­land Un­der-19s. “I wish I could say it was a bit more prophetic, but we try to give all of the play­ers some cap­taincy ex­pe­ri­ence,” says John Win­dows, Durham’s academy man­ager. “Ben was a nat­u­ral for that type of thing – a nat­u­ral leader of men.”

Even th­ese two matches in May 2008 pro­vide a lit­tle hint about the sort of cap­tain Stokes could be.

“He was very ag­gres­sive in terms of his mind­set – want­ing to take wick­ets,” says academy team-mate Richard Coughtrie. “He al­ways had an in­nate un­der­stand­ing of the game. He’s a hard crick­eter and he cap­tained hard. His cap­taincy was very much like his play with the bat and ball and in the field. It was very clear from an early age he was a nat­u­ral leader.”

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