England in West Indies 2016-17 February 28, 2017

Stokes gears up for Brathwaite reunion

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Switch Hit: Tom Curran flies in for Caribbean ODIs

If Ben Stokes thought for a moment he would be able to put his past behind him, his hopes were quickly dispelled when he arrived for training at the Sir Viv Richards stadium in Antigua.

There, in the middle of the playing area, was the familiar shape of Carlos Brathwaite practising his boundary hitting. As ball after ball landed in the stands and on the grass banks, it must have seemed wearingly familiar for Stokes.

But it's not that which is making Stokes squirm. He is a man completely at ease with the cut and thrust of competition. He understands there will be days when he comes off second-best and has no problem living with the consequences of victory or defeat. There's no animosity or ill-feeling between Brathwaite and Stokes. Only respect.

The pair bumped into each other at a function at Coolidge (the old Stanford ground, now the new home of West Indies cricket) on Tuesday night and exchanged a good-natured chat and what passes for handshakes in the Caribbean. "They've about five ways of doing it here," Stokes says. "He was as big as he was back then."

And it's not memories of breaking his hand on a locker in the Barbados dressing room that is embarrassing him, either. He regrets it, of course. He knows it was immature and, as he says, "unnecessary". But it was also part of his development. He missed a World T20 tournament because of it and learned better ways to control his emotions.

"If I ever repeat something like that again - I don't think I ever would - but if I did, I'd be very disappointed in myself," he told the BBC on Wednesday. "But I feel now I've got a better way of dealing with failure. I try and deal with it now as I deal with success. I never look too far ahead after doing well, so I just try to have the same mentality about failure: just chuck it behind you, start working harder to get better.

"Being in a leadership role, I'm maybe going to have to take a step back a few times. But I'll still have that same desire and hunger and want to get in people's faces, because that's what makes me the cricketer I am. I don't want to lose that."

Ben Stokes is ready to face his demons when England take on West Indies on Friday © Getty Images

No, the reason Stokes is mumbling bashfully is because he has been asked to talk about his newly-acquired wealth. As comfortable as he is facing the quickest bowlers or with the game at its tightest, he looks horribly embarrassed when asked to reflect on the personal implications of having attracted USD 2.16 million from Pune in the IPL auction. Most comfortable out on the pitch or thinking of himself as one of the boys, he knows now that he will never just be 'Ben Stokes the talented lad from Cumbria' but 'Ben Stokes, the millionaire'. He relishes the spotlight on the pitch, but off it? That's a new and uneasy experience.

"Being out on the pitch is a lot easier than talking to you lot," he says. "Being out there is something we're used to and something we've been doing for years and years. And probably being out on the pitch is where I'm most comfortable.

"The auction stuff is very tough to talk about. It's one of those things that makes me a little bit awkward. You may have noticed…" His voice trails off. "The main thing you want to do is walk off at the end on the winning team. All things outside that bubble go out of the window once you go out on to the pitch."

While he's hardly going to win a lot of sympathy for his new-found wealth, his discomfort is understandable. For Stokes knows that he has hardly started. He knows the rewards have preceded the achievement and that, for all his success to this point, most of his ambitions remain unfulfilled. England have not won the Champions Trophy or World Cup. They haven't won in Australia or made it to the top of the Test rankings. The bank balance might suggest Stokes has made it, but he knows there is still a long way to go.

"I'm 25," he says. "I've hopefully 10 years left in me in international cricket if the body holds up. So moving forward there's still a lot more I want to achieve personally and in terms of this England team."

It's noticeable that most of his ambitions are team related. He's never going to be one to target 8,000 runs or 300 wickets. He targets victories and trophies. It's not hard to see why he was appointed Joe Root's Test vice-captain.

"If we deliver on the stuff we've been doing in the white-ball form then hopefully we're going to go far. We've been really, really good over the last two years in white-ball cricket. We got a bit of stick in India, which was undeserved. We scored a lot of runs against a really good team. Scoring 350 and losing and then chasing 370 and getting 360 and losing… I don't think there's much bad you can take away from that.

"We've got a good chance and we know how talented this team is. Look at how destructive our batting order is. You only have to look at the game at Trent Bridge when we got 444 to see how that went and we've been scoring 350 on a regular basis. And when you do that you're going to win more games than not. So I think we should be one of the favourites but we don't want to get big heads. We'll keep our feet firmly planted on the ground."

If the auction success has had any influence on Stokes it has been to sharpen his desire to live up to his billing. "It's given me more drive to work even harder, if anything," he says. "You see success can get you things like this. And wanting to be successful for many more years to come will probably give me more determination to work harder."

Stokes was joined at training by Jake Ball. After scans produced encouraging results on Ball's knee, he took part in catching drills and bowled a little in the middle. But the fact that he was supervised not by one of the coaching staff but by the team doctor underlined the impression that he is unlikely to play on Friday. Alex Hales also attended training, though his involvement was limited to wearing the catching mitt and returning the ball to the bowlers. Tom Curran is expected to arrive on Thursday.

Meanwhile the England camp have said they will wear black armbands to mourn the death of John Hampshire. As he and his family were particularly fond of Barbados, it may well be that they wait until the third ODI for the tribute.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo. He will be covering England's tour of the Caribbean in association with Smile Group Travel, specialists in hosted supporters' packages.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • David on March 3, 2017, 14:07 GMT

    Carlos Brathwaite is obviously a big and strong power player but has no defense to back up his aggressiveness. He has natural ability but if there is nothing between the ears then it's useless. He could get off on his day if the conditions suit him but that's not saying much!

  • prbowr4785367 on March 3, 2017, 2:20 GMT

    Stokes is a good cricketer - in theAshes debacle of 2013-2014 in Australia, he was one of the stand outs as a player of the future. As an Australian, I was very happy to see him out!

  • Shekar on March 2, 2017, 23:50 GMT

    Carlos Braithwaite's career has regressed so much so that now he is unsure of a place in the ODI team and even as captain may be dropped from the T20 team. With Rovman Powell emerging as a far better batsman and Holder developing into a propper allrounder, I wont be too surprised to see him dropped before the series is over

  • Michael on March 2, 2017, 17:47 GMT

    Stokes is a better all rounder than Dwayne Bravo,Darren Sammy and Andre Russell too .Carlos is a relative newcomer to One Day cricket,those above are experienced bits and pieces cricketers and I predict that the WI WILL win this series too.

  • Rob on March 2, 2017, 17:02 GMT

    CORRIDOR-OF-CERTAINTY ON MARCH 2, 2017, 7:34 GMT. You might remember Stuart Broad for the Yuvraj six sixes in a football stadium rather than the hat-trick against India , most England and Australian fans probably remember him taking 8-15 in the Ashes.

  • Kevin on March 2, 2017, 15:51 GMT

    @JAMIE347391...Matt Coles injured and has withdrawn from North v South and Champion County matches, so not available for selection. Whether good enough is a debate for another day!

  • Kevin on March 2, 2017, 15:39 GMT

    I have a sneaking feeling that the Stokes the competitor (which, is surely beyond doubt, despite the lovers and haters disparity expressed here!) will not focus on bowling to Brathwaite, but look to exact revenge when batting against him. Although his approach will always be primarily towards the team, his way of putting this behind him will not be by taking his wicket, but by hitting him for five or more successive sixes and I can't help thinking that it has crossed his mind! I first saw Stokes in the u19 World Cup and knew he was special. His batting and bowling successes will ebb and flow, as is the history of the sport, but his passion and commitment is surely beyond doubt. For that alone I wish him every success, he deserves it!

  • Russell on March 2, 2017, 12:30 GMT

    @ Omarrz: Get off the bandwagon and try watching a few games. If you actually watched any English cricket over the last couple of years you'd understand why Stokes is considered to be a good all-rounder, especially in Tests. He can swing the ball both ways, his fielding is electric and he can be destructive with the bat, especially against pace, although he recently showed improvements in his game against spin. Name me a better fast-bowling all-rounder who bats at 6 in world cricket today.

  • Tracey on March 2, 2017, 12:27 GMT

    Carlos would have to visit Haiti and get some Witchcraft potion to 'Repeat the WC performance against Stokes'. Though I am a Trinidadian (not afraid to state my Nationality unlike some West Indies bloggers) I maintain that Carlos is a ONE INNINGS WONDER and CANNOT maintain a place on the team. While I enjoyed the 6666, for the next few encounters I predict 'Advantage Stokes'.

  • jarrel0723030 on March 2, 2017, 11:37 GMT

    People wouldn't let Ben Stokes down for the WT20 Final but the truth is he is a far better all rounder than Carlos Brathwaite. I wish CB was half the player Stokes is then maybe we wouldn't be calling for him to be dropped from the WI team.

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