Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'
The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Thursday 17 April 2014
As an all-rounder with a competitive nature and an aggressive streak, Ben Stokes has been likened to Ian Botham as a young man and been tipped for a future decorated with similar levels of success as one of English cricket's all-time greats.
But just as Botham's colourful career meant his reputation on the field eventually came with baggage picked up off it, Stokes is at risk of seeing his shining talent acquire an unwelcome tarnish.
It is a danger of which he is well aware after the moment of dressing-room red mist that marred his first full winter as a senior England player, one that included his maiden Test century in only his second appearance.
The self-inflicted broken wrist that cut his involvement short on the eve of the World Twenty20, followed the shame he suffered the previous winter, when breaches of discipline led to him being sent home early from an England Lions tour of Australia.
The two incidents have led to suggestions that far from succeeding Botham as an all-conquering superhero, Stokes could find himself compared, for all the wrong reasons, with Kevin Pietersen as a player left in the wilderness for non-cricketing reasons.
After fracturing the scaphoid bone in his right wrist when, out of frustration at his first-ball dismissal, he punched a dressing-room locker at the end of England's Twenty20 series in the West Indies, he has discussed anger management with England's in-house sports psychologist, Dr Mark Bawden.
"I'm very passionate about what I do and get quite emotional when things don't go well but on that occasion, it came out in a way that I regret," Stokes said, speaking at the launch in Birmingham of the new NatWest T20 Blast competition, due to start in May.
"I never want to stop it on the field, I definitely don't want to lose that edge to my game. But I just hope never again to show that kind of emotion off the field that results in an injury."
He admitted it was not even the first time it had happened. "I did it once before, when I was a lot younger and I broke a bone then as well," he said. "It was back in my club cricket days. On that occasion it was a fire door rather than a locker."
Ben Stokes on his way to a century during the third Test in Perth in December (Getty Images)
Stokes, only 22 but in a settled relationship with his partner Clare and has an 18-month-old son, Layton, to keep him grounded, thought at first he might have escaped with some heavy bruising in Barbados but x-rays revealed otherwise. Once the break was confirmed, he was quick to express his regret.
"The management were obviously disappointed and I let them know that I was disappointed with myself," he said. "I spoke to the team before I left and said I was sorry for letting them down. Gilo [Ashley Giles, England's one-day coach] did not really tell me off, he didn't have to. I'd already told myself off in harsher words than anything he could have said."
He had been on the sharp end, too, of his father's tongue when he phoned the family home in New Zealand with his red-faced confession. Ged Stokes, nowadays a prison warder, had taken work as a rugby league coach in Cumbria when young Ben, who was born in Christchurch, arrived in England as a 12-year-old.
"He called me a wally, basically," Stokes said. "He wasn't best pleased." It is the fear that he might acquire another unwelcome label that made him willing to listen to Dr Bawden's advice.
"I hope I haven't given anyone an opportunity yet to say you are not going to play for reasons other than cricket," he said. "But I have to make sure I'm on top of this thing. Attitude was a big thing in the way I was brought up by my old man.
"I have talked with the England psychologist. You let out things to him that you wouldn't tell someone on the street and he gives you a different take on how to handle things. Anything to stop me doing what I did must be good.
"It is just a matter of becoming more mature. I don't think punching lockers is the way forward, there is only going to be one winner there. Next time I look at a locker I'll know what it did to me. As I said before, it is on the pitch where I should be showing my emotions."
He confesses he had to suppress his personal joy when he pulled the Australian left-arm fast bowler Mitchell Johnson, England's destroyer-in-chief, to bring up his century in the second Test in Perth with his 16th boundary. "It seemed weird because I couldn't really express my emotions as I wanted to because of the game situation," he said. "Being out there, 22 when it happened, opened your eyes to the highest level of the sport that you want to be doing.
"But I'd rather have come back an Ashes winner than just had success on a personal level. You perform as an individual but you'd rather be on a winning side. Nice to walk away remembering the personal things I achieved but it would have been better if we had won as a team.
"What happened in Barbados put a dampener on that but I was more gutted about missing out on my first World T20, to be honest.
Stokes was set to form a significant part of the restructuting of the England team in the wake of the Ashes debacle and the resignation of coach Andy Flower. "I didn't want to be having this time off at this stage of the season," he said. "I haven't ruled myself out of the one-dayers but it is just a matter of time and patience, seeing how it feels and when I can get back in the nets.
"With the next Test coming up in June it would be nice to get on the field and get some cricket under my belt. But now I've just got to take it in my stride and get back as quickly as I can."
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