Andy Flower’s long-term future as England coach may be uncertain, but he can put the emergence of Ben Stokes down as one of his success stories.
Stokes, whose brilliant maiden Test century in Perth was the sole consolation as England lost the Ashes with two matches to spare, credits Flower with giving him the opportunity to prove he was serious about international cricket after all.
Less than 10 months ago, there were significant concerns that the Durham all-rounder might end up a wasted talent after he was sent home along with fellow curfew-breaker Matt Coles from the England Performance Programme for persistent late-night drinking.
But reformed character and young dad Stokes did himself, his family and his adopted country proud with a defiant 120 as England subsided all around him to a 3-0 deficit at the WACA on Tuesday.
The 22-year-old knows he owes Flower a debt of gratitude for allowing him a path back into the England reckoning once he had served his punishment.
Flower was unable, in the aftermath of the Perth defeat, to commit beyond the current series to the job he has done for almost five years – mostly to much acclaim. But Stokes, for one, will doubtless be hoping he does stay on after all. Andy gave me another chance,” said the Christchurch-born 22-year-old son of former New Zealand rugby league player Ged.
“I think I showed him I wanted to play for England and get back into the fold – and made sure I wanted to change his mind, if he had any negative views on me.
“He gave me that second chance and I’m pretty thankful for that.”
It has been an eventful past year or so for Stokes, starting with the birth of his own son, then his and Coles’ spot of bother, and of course not least that century in just his second Test.
Asked if he feels he has grown up a lot in that time, he said: “Yes. I took a look at the bigger picture and realised we’re icons to ... anyone, kids ... so you’ve got to be doing the right things on and off the pitch.”
Stokes, unlike most of his team-mates, did plenty right in Perth – but would give it all back to still be in with a chance of winning, or at least retaining, the Ashes
“It was mixed emotions,” he said. “We were trying to deal with the fact we haven’t retained the Ashes and at the same time trying to celebrate a personal landmark.
“It’s great to achieve these things from a personal point of view – but obviously everyone, including me, is pretty gutted we’ve lost these Ashes.
“In the changing room, we had that little bit of sadness.
“But we’ve got to focus on these next two Test matches.
“There is still a lot to play for, a lot of pride.”
Stokes’ batsmanship against an outstanding attack on the bounciest pitch in the world, and one covered in crazy-paving cracks for the bowlers to aim at too, was a revelation to many –if not to him.
“It was a challenge you want,” he said. “It’s never going to be easy and it’s good to put yourself out there against a really strong Australian attack on a fast wicket.
“It also gives you belief that you can do it.”