Phil Tufnell believes Ben Stokes has earned the right to lead England in next week’s Test match against the West Indies at Southampton, less than two years after he was cleared of affray in a high-profile court case after a brawl outside a nightclub.
Stokes’ international career was on the line after he appeared in court in August 2018, but he vowed to focus all his attention on his cricket career after he was cleared of all charges.
The subsequent two years have seen Stokes emerge as one of the most prominent performers in world cricket, with his stunning performances guiding England to Cricket World Cup glory last summer before he produced one of the greatest Test match innings of all-time to win England an Ashes Test against Australia at Headingley.
In the absence of Test match skipper Joe Root, Stokes will lead England in the first Test of the summer against the West Indies next Wednesday – and in an exclusive interview with Cricket365, former England spinner Tufnell reflected on a tumultuous rise for Stokes, that has transformed his image from bad boy to national hero in startling fashion.
“If you go from the Bristol nightclub incident to where we are now in the story of Ben Stokes, it is a remarkable story,” began Tufnell, who will be part of the BBC commentary team as Test match cricket highlights will return to the network for the first time in 21 years with coverage of the England vs West Indies game next week.
“You have the World Cup triumph last summer, his incredible innings at Headingley, being named as Sports Personality of the Year, now he is England captain….crikey o’reilly, this is redemption on the grand scale.
“Clearly, Ben has learned a hell of a lot from what happened to him at the start of his career and now he is realising all the potential we always knew he had.
“When you are in that spotlight and you get your chance to play for England, you quickly realise that your profile has changed and you need to knuckle down and get your head right to play cricket and he has done that so well over the last couple of years. He has blossomed into this world-class cricketer with the bat, ball and his fielding.
“Also, he conducts himself superbly off the field, so this has to be the ultimate reward to lead England in a Test match. What a wonderful day for him to go out with the blazer to toss up as England captain. All credit to him, he has earned this huge honour.
“It’s only for one game, but there will be those now asking whether Stokes is a permanent England captain in the making. Joe Root is still very much the England captain for now, but he is not available for this match, so it is up to Stokes to try and rise to the challenge and captaincy is a tough job in cricket.
“He will have the respect of his team-mates and everyone around him in the England set-up, so he has to grasp the moment, but I know from personal experience that it will not be easy.”
Tufnell, who took 121 wickets in a stellar Test career with England, was not noted for his organisational skills during his playing days – and his description of his own experiences as a captain fit his reputation perfectly.
“I was captain on a couple of occasions in my career at club level and there is a hell of a lot to think about,” he says with a smile. “Put it this way, I realised pretty quickly that my captaincy days were pretty much over before they started!
“Your own batting and bowling have to come into the mix, but I was in charge for a one day game and your mind is spinning. How many overs are left, what end do my bowlers want to be at, how many overs have they each got left, which way is the bloody wind blowing, how many men have we got in the ring… help!
“Cricket has got to be one of the toughest sports to be a captain in, so I wish Ben all the best as he leads England for the first time because he will have so much to think about.”
Highlights from the England v West Indies Test series will begin on July 8 on BBC Two from 7pm.
By Kevin Palmer, follow him on Twitter
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