Everyone loves a battler and so it’s no wonder Ben Stokes’ status as a genuine cricketing superstar went up a notch when he shrugged off a collar bone injury and came to the crease to brave ten balls on day three of this final Test.
Stokes’ guts helped Stuart Broad add what could prove to be 10 crucial runs to England’s first-innings total against Pakistan.
The fact he had arrived at the ground in the morning wearing a sling didn’t perturb the 24-year-old all-rounder.
After all he’s made from tough rugby league stock.
Stokes moved to England from New Zealand aged 12 when his father, Ged, was appointed coach of Workington, a rough-around-the-edges town in the far north-west of England that has famously been voted one of the worst places to live in the country.
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However, five years after the family had moved from Christchurch to Cumbria, Stokes was making his first-team debut for Durham, dismissing current England batting coach Mark Ramprakash, then of Surrey, with his third legal delivery in senior cricket.
Four years later Stokes burst onto the international scene when he made an impressive Test debut in Adelaide for an inept England team on the 2013-14 Ashes tour. In the next match in Perth, Stokes showed his character and ability in battling to a debut Test century on a spicy WACA pitch against a pumped-up Mitchell Johnson.
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It was some entrance but it would have come as no surprise to those who saw him rise through the ranks at Durham.
Toughness is something the allrounder seemingly has in his DNA. There was a story doing the rounds at the start of this tour, since corroborated, that his father had a finger amputated during his rugby league career so he could continue playing and picking up his pay cheque.
A persistent problem with a digit that had been bent out of shape by numerous dislocations saw Stokes senior seek medical advice. The doctor told him to have an operation and take a significant time out of the game. Keen to continue playing and continue getting paid, Ged asked for another option. There was only one – amputation. He took it.
So, you can see why Stokes junior thought nothing about shrugging off an injury that could still see him miss England’s upcoming tour of South Africa. Putting your body on the line is a family trait.
England’s James Taylor said of Stokes after day three here: “He’s a tough northerner isn’t he? He showed a lot of guts and character. He’s a tough boy and he showed that today.”
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Stokes plays the hard man well. One gem of an anecdote from Broad’s recently-released book captures his team-mate’s persona perfectly. When England went on a pre-Ashes trip to Spain to help the players get to know their new coach Trevor Bayliss, Stokes and fast bowler Mark Wood hatched a prank during a team quiz night that left the Australian’s jaw on the floor.
As Broad recounts: "Unbeknown to Trev (Bayliss), Stokesy and Mark Wood have a bit of a party trick where Stokesy pretends to knock Woody out. The routine sees Stokesy throw a full-on punch and Woody somehow makes a slapping noise as the punch flies past his face before falling prone to the ground in a heap. It’s incredibly realistic.
"Woody was sitting at the back of the room with his team when Stokesy walked in. Suddenly, Woody piped up from the back of the room. 'Stokes, you look like a *****,’ he shouted.
"Stokesy looked furious. He had a deadly serious look on his face as he stared straight at Woody, who proceeded to stand up shouting 'Do you want some?' before charging full tilt at Stokesy.
"Before Trev knew what was happening, 'Bang!', Woody was lying on the floor in a heap after Stokesy had apparently knocked his lights out.
"Now bearing in mind Trev had already witnessed Stokesy almost destroy a set of golf clubs with his bare hands after shanking a six iron, he could have been forgiven for being a bit concerned. His face was a picture, along with those of the rest of the management.
"After a moment of silence, the room burst into laughter as Woody jumped back on his feet unscathed. I looked at Trev and his face just said: 'What the hell has just happened here?'"
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Stokes, of course, did land himself in significant trouble with a real punch last year when he broke a wrist and was ruled out of the World T20 in Bangladesh after striking a locker in anger following a dismissal against West Indies in Barbados.
It is, though, the allrounder’s ability allied to that hard-as-nails attitude that make him such a tough competitor. His scores of 92 and 101 in the opening Test of the last English summer against New Zealand at Lord’s set up a thrilling win for his side and set the template for an exciting brand of cricket that ultimately led them to Ashes glory.
Stokes is one hell of a player and England will be praying he is fit for South Africa when they receive a definitive update on his fitness the week after next. But even if the news is bad, they might struggle to keep him off the plane.