Business Day

Hitman Ben needs more timing practice — or rather not


Timing is everything. Ben Stokes was on the front cover of The Times of London’s Magazine this week. The headline read: “The Hit Man.” Inside, a large pull-out quote from the England cricketer read: “There is adrenaline there, but I’d never get close to punching someone.”

He was speaking about altercatio­ns on the pitch.

The rest of the quote gives some context.

“It’s the heat of the moment. Trying to be the bloke to get the wicket that will change the game back in our favour.”

Except that that context needs some more context. In the piece in The Times, Stokes speaks of why he has a Maori tattoo, a nod to his background in New Zealand and the tribe he has ties to. Both sides of the family have Maori in them, but his mum’s side has more than his dad’s.

The writer, Nigel Farndale, suggests that it “is a war-like tribe, presumably, for the Stokes fuse is famously short”.

When opposition teams sledge him — that is, try to make him lose concentrat­ion at the crease by winding him up — the only worry his England teammates have is for the wellbeing of the sledger.

When the Australian wicketkeep­er Brad Haddin once tried this, the England spinner Graeme Swann took him to one side and suggested it might not be a sensible way to proceed, on balance. When Haddin asked why, Swann explained: “Because he’ll f***ing kill you, mate.”

The angry side of Stokes emerged outside a Bristol club in the wee hours this week, when a video apparently shows him throwing 15 punches inside one minute at a man (although if left to a Nevada boxing judge, he would say he only threw three and landed one), that ended with a slap and a mate saying: “That’s enough, Stokesy.”

It is usually never enough for Stokes. England need him and picked him for the Ashes. They need his anger just as he needs it. It fuels him, drives him. When it boils over, they manage it.

He already has a long list of going bang.

When he was 13, he broke his hand punching a door after losing his wicket. In 2011, he got in trouble in Newcastle for obstructin­g police while out on the tear.

Two years later, he was sent home from an England Lions tour for drinking late at night on a regular basis. He has picked up three demerit points in short time in the 2016-17 season: one for verbals with Bangladesh’s Sabbir Rahman, another for getting into a spat with Virat Kohli and his third against the West Indies for swearing.

He fractured his wrist in 2014, hitting a change-room locker. His teammates called him Hurt Locker and Rocky after that. At Newlands in 2016, he told Temba Bavuma: “You are absolutely s**t.” Bavuma scored 102 not out. The less said about his relationsh­ip with Marlon Samuels the better.

He likes a drink and sees little wrong with it, although his bosses might want to have a word in his lughole about just how much he drinks: “We’re grown men, go out for dinner, have a few pints. I’m 26, not 14. I don’t have to drink Diet Cokes with dinner.”

All of the former cricket players I know like a drink. Well, except for Shaun Pollock. The former players reckon the current ones can’t hold their drink, not like they did in their day. David Warner tried to punch Joe Root after a few. Those who have seen Andrew Symonds drinking tend to stay away from him. He is not a good drunk.

Jesse Ryder had to be put in an induced coma after being beaten up outside a bar. Ricky Ponting gave up the sauce after waking up with a black eye and no memory of how he got it.

Monty Panesar decided to relieve himself on two bouncers outside a nightclub. Andrew Flintoff was a drunken sailor, before he too gave up the juice. Ian Botham punched Ian Chappell in a Melbourne bar. It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.

Stokes should have known better. Not before the Ashes, man. Timing is everything.


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