England all-rounder Ben Stokes was the standout performer for the visitors in their tour of Bangladesh in both the limited-overs matches and the Tests. He was adjudged player of the series in the ODIs and exhibited venomous reverse swing during the Tests. The enterprising 25-year-old was also involved in quite a few on- and off-the-field incidents which created a lot of headlines throughout England's month-long tour.
The dashing all-rounder was candid during his exclusive interview with the Dhaka Tribune, talking about his experiences on the Bangladesh tour and his journey towards stardom, among other things.
You had a terrific time, both in the ODIs and the Tests against Bangladesh. How much did you enjoy the tour?
The tour of Bangladesh has been fantastic. The way we have been welcomed by the Bangladesh public has been superb. Security has been first-class - and we did worry before arriving here. The main thing is that cricket has become our primary focus and the cricket has produced some terrific encounters.
The ODI series was great to play in. Bangladesh pushed us hard and to win here was satisfying. The perception back home is that Bangladesh aren’t a strong side but their record at home is incredible. Until our series victory, they had won their last six white-ball series on home soil against some strong sides. They pushed us hard and we had to play well to win.
The Test series has been absorbing. The Chittagong Test was one of the best matches I have played in. It had drama throughout and we had to do something very special to win on that final morning.
In Dhaka, the match ebbed and flowed and Bangladesh deserved to win as we lost 10 wickets in one session. It was a tough defeat to take but we need to respond and learn from this when we head to India for the five Tests coming up.
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Stokes executes a reverse sweep on way to his maiden hundred in the first ODI DHAKA TRIBUNE
Which Bangladesh players impressed you the most during this tour?
They are a strong unit. The young off-spinner Mehedi [Hasan Miraz] is a serious talent and looked the part. Then you have Tamim [Iqbal] who plays attacking and aggressively, he is always looking to move the rate on and Shakib [al Hasan] battles hard for the team. He is a competitor and gives it all on the field. I enjoy playing against him.
They are led well by the keeper Mushfiqur [Rahim] who loves a battle and the young batters – Imrul [Kayes] and Mominul [Haque] - have impressed with their range of shots. They take a leaf out of Tamim’s book and play with intent.
You scored 85 in over three hours to help England win the first Test. How did you hold your concentration?
That was definitely my most mature performance with the bat in Test cricket. They were probably the toughest conditions I've had so far in international cricket - especially going in with all the men around the bat and the ball spinning as much as it was.
My defensive game against spin has gone up another level. That's from working hard. I'm making sure I don't fall into the trap of batting for 20 minutes and then losing concentration on what I'm actually trying to do.
We can all hit boundaries, but the hardest thing to do is defend when you first come in. I didn't want to give my wicket away and made sure if I was going to get out it was going to take a good ball.
I knew that if we kept rotating the strike the game was going to get easier. There was so much time left in the game that it was just a matter of occupying the crease, rotating the strike and putting the bad balls away. The guys around the bat would soon disappear.
The longer you spend on wickets like that, the easier it becomes. If we can get through the tough periods - and there are going to be plenty in India - then the easier it's going to get. I tried to put the foot on the gas towards the end to try and get the lead up as high as we could but I'm happy with how it went.
And what about yourself: are we looking at the new Andrew Flintoff?
I don’t want to be compared to anyone else. I am Ben Stokes and I go about my business. It is disrespectful to compare me to Flintoff or any other all-rounder from the past.
Your father was a professional rugby player. So how did you get into cricket?
I've been playing cricket from a very young age. I was born in New Zealand and spent most of my childhood over there so cricket and rugby league were second nature. (But) I didn't start taking cricket seriously until my family moved to England when I was 13, due to my dad’s role as a player and coach of a rugby league team (Workington Town) in the north of England.
I became a member of Cockermouth Cricket Club and spent most nights at the club during the summer. I was naturally a strong hitter of the ball and had raw skills to bowl quick for a junior. The club put faith in me and helped me enormously, including the coach Jon Gibson.
From then on cricket became my primary focus and I worked hard on my game to continue my development as a player through the various representative sides; from Cumbria, to the North of England and finally to England junior call-ups. From there Durham invited me to train and the rest is history.
How difficult was your journey into the England team?
It was always an ambition of mine to play for my country. I have dedicated my life to being the best that I can be and to working hard to develop my game further. You have to work at it every day, both mentally and physically. It is not easy and even though I am talented there is no substitute for hard work.
Every day when I practice I give it my all and leave nothing on the field. I treat every session as if I’m playing. It is the only way I know.
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Stokes consoles Bangladesh's Sabbir Rahman after the dramatic first Test match in Chittagong DHAKA TRIBUNE
How do you rate yourself, as a better bowler or batsman?
I think that my skills in both areas of my play are improving all the time. I have always been a naturally aggressive batsman and would say my batting was always my biggest strength. I work hard on my game to continue to improve, especially on my defence in subcontinent conditions.
My bowling has now become a major part of my make-up. I work hard on my control and on bowling good areas to make the ball work for me. I learn a lot from my teammates and from watching a lot of videos of the best bowlers from around the world. You have to work hard, listen to your peers and continue to strive to be the best you can be.
How difficult it is for an all-rounder to maintain top form in all the departments of the game?
It can be tough, but I relish it. I challenge myself to be the best in all of my skills. I have always done that and will continue to strive to improve. If you stand still, very quickly this game can bite you on the backside and cast you adrift. Conditioning my body for the rigours of Test and one-day cricket is also important so I need to keep in shape and be physically ready for battle.
Obviously you had some plans before heading for the subcontinent.....
I like to keep my preparation work to myself. Suffice to say I did a lot of work with the batting coach (Mark Ramprakash) on defending spin and playing the spinning ball. The next weeks with Tests in Asia will be dominated by spin. My technique will be tested so I spend a lot of time working on the way I play.
You also have to get used to the heat very quickly. That can cause havoc with your endurance. I think that we have coped well so far with the searing heat in Bangladesh and what is to come in India.
Where do you want to see yourself after completing your career?
I have a lot still to give to England and Durham. That is my focus. I don’t look too far ahead. It’s about playing the game I love and enjoying every moment.