SIMON HUGHES: By the age of 30, Andrew Flintoff and Ian Botham had made around 80 per cent of their Test appearances. You could see Stokes, who has now played 71, potentially doubling that
Ben Stokes is flitting about from room to room in his large modern house in a village near Durham. He has lost his wallet. His wife Clare raises her eyebrows good-humouredly. ‘Where the hell is it?!” he says in exasperation. Eventually he finds it down the side of the bed and all is well, and Stokes smiles at his forgetfulness.
For the last month, the whereabouts of his wallet has been one of the only things he has had to worry about – rather than honing his fitness or fine-tuning his technique before a match, for instance – as he loiters at home waiting for his broken finger to heal.
Far from appearing frustrated and irritable as you’d imagine a man of such high achievement and competitive instincts would be, he has actually rather enjoyed the time off.
“It might surprise you, but I haven’t picked up a bat or been to the gym for a month,” Stokes tells The Analyst: Inside Cricket podcast. “And actually I’ve loved it. I feel really refreshed after this rest. It maybe shows how much I needed it.”
He is never entirely alone, of course. He has honoured a number of sponsors’ commitments and other duties that had been postponed due to the pandemic, and today he has been followed around for much of the time by a seven-man film crew, of which I am one.
He shows us proudly around the house which includes a cinema room, a family room, a spacious open-plan kitchen, a gym in an annexe, complete with golf simulator and a bar decorated with memorabilia including, of course, his still-dust-caked World Cup-winning shirt. He apologises for the large number of cases of beer neatly stacked on the bar. It is his 30th birthday in 10 days’ time. It will be a large party.
Commemorating that milestone, we at The Cricketer decided to compare his achievements at that age to his illustrious predecessors Andrew Flintoff, Tony Greig and of course Ian Botham. You will have to buy the magazine to get the full story, but one thing is clear.
While the other three were largely in decline by age 30 – largely through wear and tear – Stokes is getting better. His Test batting average is on an upward curve and his Test bowling average is at an all-time low. Interestingly his bowling strike rate is identical to Botham’s (56.9).
He prefers not to look back on his achievements so far and instead is keen to look forward. “Thirty is still young,” he says. “I feel I have so much more to offer the sport.”
He is a compulsive practiser completely hell-bent on self-improvement. “I’m always trying to find ways to get better,” he adds, which includes a significant change in the way he holds the bat to give him more scope to manipulate the ball rather than relying on muscle.
Ben Stokes turns 30 on June 4
It is this attitude which perhaps distinguishes him from the other three. Afforded the luxury of central contracts and almost addicted to training, his body is in far better shape than Botham’s or Flintoff’s at 30. By that age they had played around 80 per cent of their Tests. You could see Stokes, who has now played 71, potentially doubling that, though of course he will miss the two next month against New Zealand.
He is hoping to return for Durham (for whom he hasn’t played 2018) in the Vitality Blast in mid-June as long as his finger has healed sufficiently by then. He has already resumed bowling. For an all-action man like Stokes who doesn’t understand the word ‘stop’, an enforced break like this could be just what is needed in the quest for greater achievement. Watch out India.
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