Ben Stokes reflects on 10-year journey to become world’s most exciting cricketer

A decade ago, Ben Stokes was nervously anticipating his debut as a first-class cricketer.

His career was about to kick-start with a legside clip off the bowling of Steve Kirby and the wicket of Gloucestershire stalwart Alex Gidman.

The rest is already ­glorious history.

Ten years on, Stokes is in the same boat as the rest of us, concerned only with the world somehow pulling through this unprecedented crisis.

And like the rest of us, he is looking ­forward to emerging from this tunnel…and to starting his second decade as one of the nation’s sporting icons.

“Another decade? That is the plan,” says the 28-year-old. “The body might have other ideas but let’s hope so. I remember my first-class debut. It was for Durham against an MCC side in Abu Dhabi.

“It was the ­traditional match the county ­champions played.

“It started on March 29, we batted and I didn’t get in until the following day. ­Blimey, I was 18. A lot has ­happened since then, a lot of highs and lows, and hopefully, there will be more highs over the next 10 years.

“And with this ­England side, I think there will be.

“I’ve been in this team quite a long time now and have been around when there has been a lot of changes in personnel, whether that be in the batting line or the bowling group.

“But right now, I think we have a great blend. It’s a settled squad with some young, ­exciting players coming through – ­players who have shown, in their short careers, they can deliver at international level.”

Stokes is clearly referring to the likes of Ollie Pope, Sam ­Curran, Zak Crawley, Dom Bess and Tom Banton, among others.

“As well as the experienced players, we’ve a group of players around 20, 21, 22 years old who have demonstrated how they can perform. From a senior player’s point of view, that is great because they are only going to get better,” he said.

“In four or five years’ time, we could be in a seriously good place…hopefully, the best team in the world.” But as he reflected on his first 10 years as a ­professional, Stokes knows it will be a steep learning curve for those youngsters. His Test debut was in Australia in the Ashes series of 2013-14, which ended in England being whitewashed.

“My first Test was pretty nerve-racking,” recalled Stokes. “It was at the Adelaide Oval, which has so much history about it. My first wicket was Brad Haddin but it got taken off me because it was a no-ball. Then I got Michael Clarke. The Australian captain for your first Test wicket is not bad.

“It was a decent series for me personally – I got my first Test hundred and had some success which gave me the confidence I could do it at the highest level.

“It was obviously a ­disappointing tour to be part of but, like all young players, you learn from those sort of things.

“We got beaten 5-0 but I took the positives out of it. It opened my eyes to what international cricket is all about. It toughened me up. You could really tell the difference between first-class cricket and international cricket.”

But not long after his first Test series, Stokes suffered a dip in form and found himself out of the England set-up.

“The next season was one of the lows,” he reflected. “I had a stinker and got dropped from the Test team on the back of poor performances. I found that tough but I went away and asked what I needed to do to get back into the team.

“My goal had been to be a permanent player in the England team and that got knocked, so I worked as hard as I could. Rather than sulk and moan I wanted to make myself better – that’s been my philosophy over these past 10 years.”


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