Ben Stokes vows to be ‘advocate’ for mental health as England captain
Ben Stokes has revealed how the help of a therapist paved the way for his ascent to the England Test captaincy and has vowed to be an “advocate” for mental health in the role.
Stokes was the overwhelming candidate to succeed Joe Root when he stood down over Easter, but just last summer he faced an uncertain future as he took a four-month hiatus from the sport.
That decision was brought on by the physical and psychological demands of international cricket and he later admitted he felt in a “dark place” and was “battling difficult thoughts”.
Now, meeting the media for the first time since becoming his country’s new skipper, Stokes opened up about the professional assistance he sought – and is still seeking – to win that battle.
“With the mental side now, a lot of negative things can be written about it, but I took my break back then because I needed to,” he said.
“I spoke with someone and I will continue to do that. It’s a regular thing. I have been a massive advocate for this area since I took my break and I will continue to do that. I have that experience to talk to anybody, whoever they may be, if they feel like they need to. The hardest thing to do in the first place is to talk to somebody.
“If anyone might be struggling with something, I have been that person in the dressing-room. I see it as positive that I’m in this role having gone through what I went through last summer. I hope that doesn’t change now I’m captain.”
For Stokes to use his initial leadership platform in such a way was a striking thing for the 30-year-old to do, and a more notable break with convention than his decision to hold the briefing at Durham’s Riverside Ground rather than the more traditional setting of Lord’s.
Stokes shunned the usual ECB blazer for the team’s new line of training gear too, a handy shorthand reminder that he represents a move away from the likes of Sir Andrew Strauss, Sir Alastair Cook and Root, all of whom appeared bred for high office from a young age.
“It’s never been a goal of mine when I was younger, to be a captain of England,” he said.
“It wasn’t something I automatically said yes to straight away. You’ve got to consider a lot of things that come with the job. But it’s not a job you can turn down. When I say I thought to myself, I didn’t really do that long…about a minute, I reckon.”
There were times when it looked like the invitation would never come, not least during the aftermath of a late night altercation in Bristol in 2017.
Stokes ended up in court and was ultimately found not guilty of affray, but only after missing an important Ashes series and seeing himself placed in the harshest of spotlights.
“Back then, no, I’d have never pictured sitting at a table speaking as England captain,” he admitted.
He has scaled remarkable new heights since those days, inspiring England’s unforgettable World Cup final victory in 2019 and producing his own ‘miracle of Headingley’ against Australia a few weeks later.
Few have experienced as many ups and downs as him, a hinterland which he feels makes him well-suited to the challenge ahead.
“I’ve always tried to see every experience, be they good or bad, as something to learn from,” he said.
“I’ve been through a lot of goods and have been through a lot of bads and I feel like I can relate to both sides of what this sporting life can throw at you.
“There’s been plenty of other experiences that I could have felt would chew me up, swallow me up and that’s me done. But I never let that happen. I guess I’m too stubborn to let anything get too on top of me.”
Stokes took care of some housekeeping by confirming he would move down a spot in the batting order to number six and would play an active role in selection, but with the head coach’s position still to be filled there are other specifics which must wait to be addressed.
Whoever he ends up working with will surely share the captain’s assessment of England’s current form.
“I think if we’re completely realistic, winning one game in 17 is nowhere near good enough,” he said.
“Everyone needs to be realistic with that. What we can do is say there’s only one way to go from here, which is up. I can’t expect it to just click and all of a sudden we’re number one in a year’s time.
“That would be fantastic, but I’m very excited about the role I’ve got to play in hopefully making the England Test team great again, it’s a big goal of mine and I’m really looking forward to it.”
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