Ben Stokes doubts he will ever peak as a cricketer but the talismanic England all-rounder believes ridding himself of the “that’s the way I play” mantra has made him a more consistent batsman.
Stokes underlined his belligerence early into his career by setting new benchmarks for the fastest Test century at Lord’s and the quickest double ton by an English batsman, both landmarks coming before his 25th birthday.
There were low moments, too, as he occasionally flattered to deceive but he has averaged 47.79 in his most recent 20 Tests dating back to the start of 2019, which contrasts with an overall record of 37.54 after 69 matches.
During that period he memorably took just three runs from his first 73 deliveries against Australia before sparking into life with an unbeaten 135 that propelled England to an against-all-odds Ashes win at Headingley 18 months ago.
Stokes believes his modified mindset owes much to Test captain Joe Root, who is rated by his deputy as England’s best-ever batsman, while the 29-year-old insists he will continue looking for ways to improve.
“I don’t think of hitting a peak,” he said in a wide-ranging interview with talkSPORT. “No one is ever the finished article. There’s always room for improvement.
“I look at Rooty, he’s one of the best players in the world. I’m going to say it now, he is England’s greatest batsman to play the game. But he’s still looking at ways to improve as a player and a captain.
“It’s amazing to watch someone with his skill doing that. Even as a senior player, I look up to how he’s always trying to improve. That’s what I do, I always try and evolve and try to work things out to become a better player.
“I got rid of the ‘this is how I play’ excuse massively. In terms of always looking to be aggressive or attacking. When I realised that was just an excuse for when failures happen, I was never going to learn from it.
“Once I got rid of that, I had more understanding of the game situation and when I need to change the way I play in terms of sometimes being a little bit more defensive because, in the long term, that could be better for the team.”
Stokes is in India after he and Jofra Archer sat out the 2-0 series win in Sri Lanka last month, with England prioritising rest and rotation for their all-formats stars in what is scheduled to be a hectic year.
Former England captains Michael Vaughan and Kevin Pietersen are among those to have questioned the policy but Stokes believes it is a sound one, as he said: “It’s very, very tough doing what we do at the moment.
“When you haven’t lived it, you don’t realise what it can do to people. People find it easier to open up on the mental side. It’s not seen as a weakness as it was a few years ago. We’ll see the benefits.”
Despite winning the Ashes and the 50-over World Cup in an eventful career, Stokes thinks he still has plenty to achieve and would cherish Test series wins in India and Australia.
England and Virat Kohli’s side are currently deadlocked at 1-1 ahead of the third Test, a pink-ball affair which gets under way on Wednesday, and Stokes believes the current group are more than capable of winning the series.
“If you can retire having won the Ashes at home, the Ashes away, an ICC event – and this tour, for me, is one of those. Beating India in India, it would be amazing to say I’ve been able to accomplish all those things,” he added.
“I still need to tick off another two. We’ve a great chance to do that over the next couple of weeks. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the group we take to Australia (for the Ashes later this year).”
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