Watching Jos Buttler's commitment towards fitness and more focus at net sessions transformed Ben Stokes' approach, the allrounder revealed in a chat with Ish Sodhi, the New Zealand legspinner and Rajasthan Royals spin consultant.
"About two years ago, I just started changing my whole thinking towards the other side of cricket, the fitness side," Stokes said in the chat organised by the Royals. "I always looked after myself, but watching someone like Jos operate the way he did at the nets to make himself a better player, drove me to have a rethink.
"Like, he'll go for the extra 45 minutes to an hour work on his fitness. It made me think, 'yeah, I feel like I can do more here; I am doing enough, but I know I can do more.' And slowly, I started to operate in that mode of 'I'm going to do my skill-based stuff' and then it just led to something bigger and better."
Stokes and Buttler have been England team-mates for over six years, and were both part of the 2019 ODI World Cup-winning side. Both of them, also part of the Royals' line-up in the IPL, featured in the 2019-20 home Ashes too. Much of the improvement Stokes spoke of, he said, was the result of an improved work ethic, which has "got around to the whole team".
"New guys coming in started thinking that's the way that everybody operates," Stokes said. "I remember Mo [Moeen] Ali and Adil Rashid were scared of the gym. You'd never see them actually doing anything. Then those two started doing extra work, and he [Moeen] did an interview, where he just went: 'Yeah, don't want to let anybody down in the team through fitness'."
While the fitness side of things improved, Stokes remembered "hitting a lot of balls without any meaning" at the nets. He spoke of how a shift in the thought process helped make every net session meaningful.
"There used to be a time when there was a schedule at training, a structure. You bowl here, you bat here, if you want anything extra, go away and get in with the batting coach," he said of his approach "three or four years ago". "Then I'd go and have an extra hit [against net bowlers], but I wouldn't really know why I was going to have an extra hit, it was just because it's available, I'll go and do it. There was no real purpose to it. But every time I walk into the net now, there is a reason, it changes every time.
"Like, if I'm batting against Broady (Stuart Broad) and Jofra [Archer], I am not going to, for example, play a big, flashing drive; tiny little things like that. Because I know they are going to go across me, and they are going to want me to have a big drive, but I am not going to do it. It is trying to train like you are in a game, in a compressed amount of time, because you are only going to get ten minutes against these guys.
"But because you have ten minutes, [it] doesn't mean you go in and try and play a big shot every ball and hopefully two or three of them will come off but you get out four times. That defeats the objective, if you're trying to get better. That's the thing [about batting in the nets], there's no consequence to what you do. That's why [what] I try to do is put a consequence on it."