The Agenda: Why Ben Stokes might be the next North East sporting icon

Durham CCC all-rounder Ben Stokes can be the North East's next genuine star believes Chief Sports Writer Mark Douglas

Durham all-rounder Ben Stokes
Durham CCC all-rounder Ben Stokes

When it is put to Geoff Cook Ben Stokes was a bit of a rough diamond when he first joined Durham’s Academy, his response is illuminating.

“He’s still a rough diamond,” Durham’s director of cricket says.

“That’s part of what makes him such a fine cricketer.

“He has an edge to him and that is the sort of thing you can’t really coach, it’s just there in someone.”

Ironically, it was the edge that got him in the end in the early hours of yesterday morning, the Cumbrian rising star playing a Nathan Lyons delivery and being caught behind by Brad Haddin.

It was an ambitious shot, exactly the kind which had taken him to his wonderful, defiant 122, but on this occasion audacity alone wasn’t enough.

No matter. By then he had already confirmed to the wider world what the North East has known for nearly a decade: Stokes is the future of English cricket.

As the Ashes headed back Down Under, Stokes’ remarkably defiant innings at the WACA rose like a pheonix from the flames of England’s defeat. No lesser figure than Ian Botham lavished praise on a player who has been singularly undaunted and unruffled by an Australian team revelling in the return to mongrel cricket days of the early seventies

Botham said: “I like what I see with him.

“Ben has proven himself to be a test match cricketer and his knock throughout the afternoon was the first thing I’ve enjoyed on this tour since day one.”

While the rest of the country reacts with gloom to the loss of the Urn, you’ll allow the North East a giddy moment at the thought of another cricketer born-and-bred in our region becoming an established international.

Paul Collingwood and Steve Harmison were pivotal parts of a great England team but, on the evidence of his precocious first Ashes series, Stokes might yet be the man that a whole team is shaped around. That is an intoxicating thought for a region which, while full of vibrant, successful athletes, has not had a front-line superstar of global acclaim since Alan Shearer was breaking international transfer records.

It is too early to place the crown of the next great North star on Stokes’ head – but there is a genuine, enthralling potential about the Cumbrian-born star.

Cook added: “He has that ability and competitive nature about it and the biggest thing for England and Durham is he still has a lot of improving to do.

“His personality is such that the way he plays, it rubs off on other people.

“That has certainly been the case at Durham this season and over the course of the last two seasons we have seen an improvement in him.

“There have been a lot of people who have improved him and with the England team he now has that all-rounder responsibility.

“It is a big responsibility but he is capable of shouldering that.

Cook continued: “He is only 22, don’t forget that. It is a fantatic effort for anyone, especially someone so young. Inevitability there will be a clamour now for him to be included again and that’s justified.”

Of course, Durham are entitled to feel a collective swelling of the chest at the rise of one of their sons.

Stokes has long been regarded as one of the most talented cricketers to come through their Academy but his rise has not been without its setbacks.

When he was sent home from the Lions tour in January, it looked like the latest indiscretion of flawed personality.

With England performing so capably and Stokes apparently intent on drinking (literally) at the Last Chance Saloon, it was up to the county to help the rehabilitation process.

The remedy to his ills was hard work and a dose of dedication under the watchful eye of Durham coaches who have always taken a level-headed approach with their protege.

Cook said: “I’m not sure whether they were really setbacks at all.

“It is just part of what a young cricketer goes through and in Ben’s case, it was all part of growing up.

“He has learned from it and I think that is the important thing.

“As I said, there are rough edges with plenty of cricketers but you can see from what he’s done in Australia that he has learned.

“From the moment Ben joined us he had his eyes on that level.

“As soon as he started to progress through the ranks he had a desire to prove himself at every level he played and he made no secret about wanting to play at the highest level.

“Sometimes it is a matter of getting that chance and in the two Tests he has playedhe’s shown himself to be a worthy of playing at that level. That is the pleasing thing for Ben.”

It is some way to end a magical year for Durham and a shot in the arm for the county game too.

While many seem to have written off that route of development, Stokes’ progression is a testament to how well it can work.

He is not the finished article but, by working with coaches who have excused him the odd indiscretion, he has been able to flourish – and he learned his trade on a county circuit often deemed an irrelevance by England.

In a year of achievement, facilitating Stokes’ rise it is another feather in Durham’s cap.

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Mark Douglas
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