Benjamin Andrew Stokes
June 04, 1991, Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand
Left hand Bat
Right arm Fast medium
The great Irish sports writer Con Houlihan used to say that every team should have a redhead. And it's true that Ben Stokes' combative nature, allied to his powerful frame and outrageous talent, lifted England to another level. Never was that more true than when he secured his place in English cricket history with an indefatigable batting display in the 2019 World Cup final. In making an unbeaten 84 he exhausted every ounce of strength, talent and willpower and then when he imagined it might be all over he came out to bat once more to help win a Super Over by the narrowest of margins.
For Stokes, this was a wonderful moment of redemption because it had been his misfortune until then to be remembered for two episodes he would rather forget. The first came in the 2016 Twenty20 World Cup final in Kolkata. Asked to defend 19 in the last over against West Indies, his attempted yorkers missed the mark by inches resulting in Carlos Brathwaite heaving him for four successive sixes into a sweltering night sky.
The second, and altogether more serious, incident occurred in September 2017. Celebrating an ODI victory in Bristol, Stokes became embroiled in a fight outside a club in the early hours of the morning that resulted in his arrest. A trial at Bristol Crown Court subsequently saw him cleared of the charge of affray but by then the reputational damage had been done. He had already missed the 2017-18 Ashes tour - a toothless England were beaten 4-0 with Stokes not considered for selection - and been stripped of the team's vice-captaincy.
It was testament to his immense character that he ensured he would be remembered for more positive reasons. Within months of his comeback, Stokes had played a key role in England's 3-0 Test win in Sri Lanka, their first whitewash series victory in Asia. Trevor Bayliss praised Stokes' attitude as "exemplary", saying he had "learned his lesson". The World Cup final underlined his immense character. Capable of turning games with his batting, his bowling and in the field, he had attracted comparisons with Ian Botham. Expectations were huge from the outset. He had satisfied them.
Stokes, from the moment he made his Durham debut, felt very much a product of the northeast of England. He was actually born in Christchurch, New Zealand and came from a rich sporting pedigree with his father, Ged, playing international Rugby League for that country.
His prodigious talent was clear from an early age. A true allrounder, Stokes debuted for Durham at 17 and dismissed Mark Ramprakash with his third legal delivery in senior cricket. He enjoyed a productive time at the 2009 Under-19 World Cup, scoring a century against India, before registering a maiden fifty on his first-class debut for Durham. But it was in 2011 that he really began to blossom. In April he took 6 for 68 and scored a brilliant hundred that included five sixes in an over, and a month later registered his maiden limited-overs ton. A broken finger hindered his bowling, but he played for England Lions and made his ODI debut against Ireland in Dublin, going on to play four times against India, albeit with limited impact.
A first brush with the management was to follow, after being called up to the England Lions squad for the tour of Australia in early 2013. Stokes ended up being sent home with three matches remaining, along with Kent's Matt Coles, after two breaches of discipline. It was a watershed moment, and he was rapidly rehabilitated back at Durham, playing a key role in their Championship-winning season and being recalled to England's limited-overs teams. He took a maiden ODI five-for and won selection for the 2013-14 Ashes tour, a return to Australia that would command attention for the right reasons.
Stokes' performances were a rare bright spot on a disastrous trip. When the agony was all over, only Stokes returned to England as a star on the rise. Brought into the XI at Adelaide, after Jonathan Trott's untimely departure, his pugnacious nature came to the fore during a maiden Test hundred in Perth, a doughty response out of keeping with England's general demeanour throughout the tour.
But with fire came combustibility. Stokes missed the 2014 World Twenty20 in Bangladesh after reacting to a dismissal in Barbados by punching a dressing room locker and sustaining a broken wrist. During a difficult year, he was dropped from the Test team after making three ducks in a row against India, and then lost his one-day place on the tour of Sri Lanka - ultimately missing out on selection for the 2015 World Cup.
Stokes, like England after a dismal tournament, needed rejuvenating. It began with the Lord's Test against New Zealand, when Stokes scored 92 and 101 after being promoted to bat at No. 6. A successful Ashes followed and he was also a central figure in the new-look ODI side that began to put the World Cup behind them under the guidance of Bayliss and Paul Farbrace. A few months later he produced a barnstorming 258 from 198 balls against South Africa in Cape Town - the fastest England double-hundred in history and the second fastest of all time - during a stand of 399 with Jonny Bairstow.
Following his Kolkata nightmare, he nevertheless grew in stature within the side and was promoted to the vice-captaincy (at least until the Bristol episode). He scored his maiden ODI hundred in Dhaka in late 2016 and added four more across international formats the following year, while also taking Test-best figures of 6 for 22 against West Indies at Lord's, becoming a key cog for England despite a chequered injury record.
An IPL millionaire twice over - he was bought for £1.7m by Rising Pune Supergiant in 2017, winning tournament MVP, and then picked up for £1.4m the following season by Rajasthan Royals - Stokes was one of the most talked-about players in the world. But there was a sense the best was yet to come. Going into 2019, a year containing an Ashes series and a World Cup, he looked to be a player at the peak of his powers who had finally understood the level of sacrifice and discipline required to coax the best out of his undoubted talent.
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