Kamikaze Stokes catching the eye
"No one needed to sit me down and tell me - you quickly realise how foolish you were," Ben Stokes said ruefully in the Lord's pavilion.
In February, during a challenging tour of Australia as a member of the England Lions squad, Stokes, along with Kent's Matt Coles, found himself returning home early. "Alcohol related incidents", or some variant of was echoed throughout the press, as ECB performance director David Parsons, in charge of the tour, spoke of previous warnings going unheeded.
Stokes couldn't have timed this final misdemeanour worse. England team director Andy Flower had just stopped over in Australia, on his way to New Zealand for the Test series, as the two roommates embarked on the night out that broke the camel's back. It is thought that Flower rubberstamped their early return home.
Understandably, Stokes, the Durham allrounder, is sheepish went reflecting six months on. He has previous after he was arrested in 2011 for obstructing a police officer.
"I knew what I had to do when I got back to England to make sure I got my career back on track," Stokes said. "I know I had a lot of work to do to get the England selectors back on my side."
Selection in the Twenty20 series with New Zealand, with the majority of England's Champions Trophy squad rested, represents a pardon of sorts. But less than a month later, it seemed he had convinced Flower of his reform and reiterated his worth.
Ahead of the 2nd Investec Ashes Test, Stokes was on the Nursery Ground training with the senior side. Net work with Graham Gooch, a bowl at the top order to keep the overs ticking over and some extensive drills with Richard Halsall was tough, but the chance to reconnect with the national setup once again was welcome.
"It's been a long time since I've been in the one day team," Stokes said. "It's pretty nerve-racking if I'm honest. To be around the Test squad and to share a changing room, sitting next to some great England players gives you butterflies. But it's nice to know that you know them and they know who I am. That settles things a bit. It's just nice to be involved again."
This heightened sense of responsibility has extended into Stokes' game, specifically his batting, which has helped Durham reach the quarter-finals of the Friends Life t20 as one of the two best third-placed sides.
Occupying No. 5, he has a hat-trick of scores that secured three out of Durham's final four wins to take them out of the North group. His most notable, a 72 off 48 balls against Nottinghamshire, came with his side struggling on 30 for 3 after six overs - 130 shy of their target. In the end, Durham won off the final ball.
Up against an impressive Northants outfit on Tuesday, who boast this year's revelation and leading wicket-taker, Pakistani fast-bowler Azharullah, his form will be tested.
"The way games have panned out, I think it's given me the chance to fulfil my role as 'finisher'," Stokes said. "It's one thing to take that responsibility on but you need to back it up. The game at Trent Bridge was that moment for me as it then gave me the confidence to do it. Then, with games against Derbyshire and Leicestershire coming within six days, I was able to carry that over and do the job in those matches, too." Stokes made 46 and 41 not out as Durham finished with a flourish.
Apart from his hitting, which has allowed him to clear the fence 18 times - the most by any player in this year's competition - Stokes' fielding borders on freakish. In the final group match against Derbyshire, he sent Dan Redfern back to the pavilion with a stunning catch at long-off, while also displaying his athleticism off his own bowling to run out Alex Hughes.
But his kamikaze approach to fielding has also caused him problems, most notably against Surrey in a Yorkshire Bank 40 clash at The Oval where he was stretchered off after taking a superb diving catch to get rid of Jason Roy that had his body seemingly bent in three. Luckily, he was back the very next day for the County Championship match between the two sides, albeit playing a limited role in the field and not bowling. Typically, he saw Durham home to a five wicket win with an unbeaten 35.
"I'm not too sure why I field the way I do," he said with a grin. "I think I was born with that desire to throw myself about. I do try and practice the most unlikely catches - that way you're ready when one comes along that needs you to do something a bit special.
"Twenty20 matches are much closer than they used to be and batsmen are getting better at both setting a target and chasing one down. Any way you can shave a few runs off their total or hold them back in a chase is invaluable. You've got to put your body on the line."
Still without a T20 title to their name, Durham have the right blend of experience and youth to at least see them through to their second Finals Day. No one better reflects the strength and exuberance of that youth like Ben Stokes - a future star in waiting.
Northants host Durham on Tuesday August 6 at Wantage Road in the quarter finals of the Friends Life t20. For further information and tickets, please visit ecb.co.uk/FLt20