Stokes gears up for Brathwaite reunion
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.”
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. (ESPNCricinfo)