Ben Stokes: England & Rajasthan Royals all-rounder on inspiring a generation
Speaking from the confines of his hotel room, Ben Stokes says he would not wish a recent stint of isolation he endured on his worst enemy or, as he joked, West Indies’ Marlon Samuels.
Yet all the time alone has reinforced the one burning desire which motivates him every day – leaving a legacy for English cricket.
Stokes is currently representing Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League – which is taking place in the United Arab Emirates – and hit a superb unbeaten century on Sunday to maintain their hopes of reaching the play-offs.
In a wide-ranging interview with the TMS does the IPL podcast, the 29-year-old reflects on life during the coronavirus pandemic, how he copes with being in the public eye and the pivotal role he can play in unearthing future England stars.
Enduring the challenges of quarantine
Dialling in on a video call, Stokes uses a pillow to prop up his phone, with his bed’s extravagant – almost regal – headboard displayed as a backdrop.
Hotel life has become all too familiar for the England star. Just moments after the interview starts, he is interrupted by a knock on the door.
“Laundry? Can you come back later, please?” he politely replies to housekeeping.
Having travelled to UAE at the beginning of October, he was required to quarantine for six days before joining his Rajasthan Royals team-mates.
But the lavishness of Stoke’s Dubai accommodation is somewhat different to his experiences in New Zealand two months earlier.
Stokes left the England camp in August and travelled to his country of birth to be with his ill father Ged.
On arriving in Auckland, he was required to isolate for 14 days.
“You get off the plane, get your bag, walk out and get told what hotel to go to,” he says.
“There’s no choice, it’s pot luck whether you get a good hotel or not. The government have chosen certain hotels to be the quarantine hotels.”
Stokes passed the time by binge-watching Netflix, exercising in the afternoon and spending countless hours playing on his games console, but he still found it challenging.
“I posted a few Instagram stories and some of the England boys were messaging me asking what it’s like and I was saying it wasn’t the most enjoyable thing you ever have to do, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy,” he says.
“I text my brother saying the same thing, and my brother asked: ‘You wouldn’t even do that to Marlon Samuels?’
“I said ‘no, it’s that bad’ – that’s how tough it was.”
Ben Stokes the opener
Stokes, in his third season with the Royals, played his first game of this year’s IPL against Sunrisers Hyderabad on 11 October.
He admits it has taken a while to become reacquainted with the intensity of top-level cricket.
“But I guess it’s like riding a bike, once you do it once and learn how to do it, you never forget,” he adds.
Stokes’ big hitting prowess can take the game away from an opponent in the blink of an eye.
As such, the Royals have promoted him to the top of the order, a role which he is relishing. Look no further than his 107 not out off only 60 balls to secure an eight-wicket win over Mumbai Indians on Sunday.
“I’ve really enjoyed it, the freedom you have at the top,” he says.
“You get a bit more time to build on the innings but you’ve still got to capitalise in the powerplay.
“I’ve always wanted to try and get myself up the order which is very tough to do in the England team with Jonny Bairstow, Jason Roy and Tom Banton now.”
Inspiring the next generation of England stars
He is acutely aware of the legacy he and his England team-mates could leave.
“Since 2005 this is probably the biggest opportunity we have as an organisation to really take the game to the next level for the next female cricketers or the next male cricketers,” he says.
“In 10 or 15 years time, if one person says I started playing cricket because of what 2019 was, that would be awesome. Even just one.
“It would be awesome thing to look back on when we’re retired, old and can’t walk.”
‘People are going to write stuff about you, good or bad’
But it has not all been plain sailing in his nine-year international career, both on and off the field.
From conceding four consecutive sixes in the last over of the 2016 T20 World Cup final to being found not guilty of affray after a fight outside a Bristol nightclub in 2018, Stokes has experienced the trials and tribulations of being in the limelight.
“You have to come to terms that people will have an opinion about you, people are going to write stuff about you, say stuff about you, good or bad,” he says.
“But at end of the day what really matters is the opinion of the people that actually matter to you.
“I’ve been through both, I’ve had the book thrown at me but I’ve also had people wanting everything to do with me.
“But those same people who want everything to do with me will throw the book at me a year later. So I don’t really care about them. ”
‘Me as captain? Too many meetings for my liking’
Some familiar faces have made Stokes’ return to cricket a little more comfortable, with compatriots Jos Buttler, Jofra Archer and Tom Curran also in the Royals squad.
Australia batsman Steve Smith captains the side but Stokes is quick to quash any suggestion of hostility between his international rival.
“The relationship constantly changes. When you’re in the same team together, and have that goal to win, the rivalry from international cricket goes out of the window,” he says.
“I’d rather have Steve Smith on my team than against me because he’s one of the world’s best and will probably go down as one of the best ever batsmen to play the game.”
In the absence of Joe Root, Stokes led England in the opening Test against West Indies over the summer. So does he have aspirations to captain the side again?
“Too many meetings for my liking,” he says with a wry smile.
“If you get called upon to do it then obviously you’re going to take on that responsibility but for me personally, being captain it’s not something I’ve ever had my eye on.”