Ben Stokes’S former colleagues at Cockermouth Cricket Club never imagined they had a future superstar in their midst when he played for them a decade ago, but now believe the England ace has the potential to become the greatest all-rounder the game has seen.
Cockermouth club secretary Geoff Minshaw watched the 24-year-old take apart South Africa’s Test attack yesterday in a way that reminded him of a teenage Stokes clubbing Cumbrian league amateur bowlers to all parts.
Stokes’s stunning 258 at Newlands broke a host of records and was the latest example of the Durham man’s match-winning qualities.
But it was not always obvious to those who once played alongside him that the left-hander would go on to become the star he is today.
Minshaw, who was also the scorer when Stokes played for Cockermouth’s first team at the age of 15, said: “I don’t think anybody thought he would go on to be the star that he is now in world cricket.
“As a club at grass-roots level you want to try and produce county cricketers, and I think we thought he could possibly make it as a county cricketer, but I don’t think anybody would have thought he would go on and dominate the world stage.”
Unsurprisingly, Minshaw no longer thinks that way.
In fact, he believes Stokes could go down in cricketing history if he can continue to produce the kind of innings he did against South Africa, which came off just 198 balls and included 30 fours and 11 sixes. He said: “He reminds me very much of Ian Botham, who was my idol when I was growing up because he was destructive, but even he (Stokes) has surpassed that with his innings. It just looks like he’s playing on a Cumbrian field against amateur bowlers and just basically whacking the ball all over the place.
“He just seems to be breaking records; he makes a good century at Lord’s last summer and gets plaudits for that, obviously he got a century in Australia and he’s taken it to another level.
“So the potential’s there, maybe he needs a little more consistency. He won’t want to do it once every few innings, he’ll want to try and do it once every three, but he’s got the potential to be the best all-rounder England have ever had and maybe the best all-rounder the world has ever seen, which is absolutely brilliant.”
Cockermouth are understandably proud of the role they played in Stokes’s development, with the New Zealand-born all-rounder playing for the club for three years from the age of 12 before being picked up by Durham.
It is almost 10 years since Stokes helped Cockermouth win their local Premier League title for the first time, but he is still in regular contact with his former club and, according to Minshaw, is just the same “genuine” person and player as he was.
Minshaw said: “We’re all delighted for him in Cumbria because you want to produce good cricketers.
“I think he’s going to be one of the best all-rounders in world cricket, if not the best. You can see his talent, he just plays the same at Test match level as he played for Cockermouth all those years ago and that’s not exaggerating. Obviously the standard is totally different, but the shots and the basics are still the same.
“His character now is just the same as it was. I only spoke to him a few weeks ago and it was so refreshing just the way he was talking, he’s the same lad as I remember before.
“Because he’s a world star he gets a bit of attention, especially when he comes back here, but he’s just exactly the same lad and I think that reflects in the way he plays.”
Minshaw also believes Stokes’s achievements for England will help bring some cheer to a community that has been badly hit by the devastating recent flooding in the region, with Cockermouth CC currently trying to raise funds to help repair the damage done to their facilities.
“When he was back last time I know he left a lot of England shirts to the club for whatever they want to do. He’ll be devastated about the floods in and around Cumbria because this was his home,” said Minshaw.