Ben Stokes ready to take centre stage at Headingley again with Northern Superchargers in The Hundred

BEN STOKES is relishing the prospect of returning to the scene of his greatest triumph when he turns out for the Northern Superchargers – the team based at Emerald Headingley – in The Hundred this summer.

Well, sort of.

In truth, the man who masterminded ‘The miracle of Headingley 2019’, with a little help from Jack Leach, admits that he has never especially liked the place – at least not in the way that he likes other venues in England and abroad.

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“Funnily enough, Headingley has never been one of my favourite grounds,” says Stokes.

“It’s gone up a little bit now (in my estimation) obviously after 2019.

“You do take away memories from certain grounds, definitely, and whenever you walk in through the gates, they’ll always be refreshed.

“It’s a memory now – I’ll probably always get asked about it in the future – and it’s a great thing to be able to look back on, and I’ll always have great memories of that day and of that game.”

It seems a lifetime ago now in a world utterly transformed by Covid-19, and yet it is only 18 months since Stokes led England to a target of 359 in that Headingley Ashes Test with an unforgettable innings of 135 not out, sharing in a last-wicket partnership of 76 with Leach, who contributed a solitary single to their superhuman stand.

Hero: Ben Stokes celebrates hitting the winning runs in the third Ashes at Headingley in 2019. Picture: Gareth Copley/Getty Images

When Stokes walks through the gates of the famous Leeds ground this coming summer, where he actually has an outstanding record with the bat (two hundreds in four Tests, average 58; plus 217 runs in seven one-day internationals, average 67), he will wear Superchargers’ purple as well as the colours of his country, with the Superchargers’ opening match on July 24 set to pit him against a chap he knows rather well – Jonny Bairstow, who will be returning home in the striking red of the Welsh Fire.

It will be that sort of competition in that sort of cricketing climate, one in which team-mates and rivals increasingly interchange across international matches and myriad white-ball tournaments of varying duration.

The Hundred further shrinks the sport in terms of bringing players together from all over the world and demystifying them where once they might have been encountered only infrequently during the course of international series.

The same applies to coaches, too, with Stokes looking forward to working with Darren Lehmann, the Superchargers’ coach and the former Yorkshire and Australia batsman, who walks on water in these parts after years of outstanding service to the White Rose county.

MAIN MAN: Northern Superchargers' Ben Stokes pictured at The Hundred Draft back in 2019. Picture: Alex Davidson/Getty Images for ECB

“One of the great things about competitions like this is that you get to work with and meet people from all over the world, past and present players,” says Stokes.

“Obviously, Darren being one of the legends of Australian cricket, it’s great to be able to rub shoulders with him, as well as the (Superchargers) overseas players such as Finchy (Aaron Finch) and Chris Lynn, who I’ve had a bit to do with over the T20 competitions that I’ve played in.

“So I’m really looking forward to meeting up with those guys again.”

Stokes is also pleased that he will be linking up with fast bowler Olly Stone, his England team-mate, whom Lehmann snapped up in the final player draft last week along with Yorkshire pace bowler Matty Fisher and batsman Harry Brook, two of English cricket’s brightest young talents.

DYNAMIC DUO: England captain Joe Root and Ben Stokes during a nets session in Colombo, Sri Lanka, March 2020. PIcture: Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Stokes admits that he would much rather be lining up alongside Stone than facing him in the middle, with the Warwickshire quick operating in the region of 90mph-plus.

“We’ve kept the core the same (Stokes is one of 10 retentions in the Superchargers’ squad from the inaugural tournament cancelled due to Covid) and made some really good signings, such as Olly Stone,” he says.

“We’ve seen how he’s progressed over the last couple of years, and you hear the phrase X-factor get thrown around a lot with certain players, and X-factor gets labelled with people who can bowl quick, and Stony is one of those.

“He’s been very impressive out here on this England tour (in India), and I’d rather have him on my team, only bowling at me in the nets rather than bowling at me in the middle.”

Stokes continues: “I think we’ve got all bases covered, I really do. We’ve got the batting power with Finchy and Lynn – obviously the less balls that you face in a game, the more power you want. Then we’ve got the mystery spin with Rash (Adil Rashid) as well.

“We’ve got pace in Stoney, skill in David Willey, and so on. We’ve got everything covered.”

Ben Stokes chats with England head coach Chris Silverwood at Newlands in Cape Town in January last year. Picture: Stu Forster/Getty Images.

Stokes is excited about a tournament that aims to attract more families and young people to watch the sport.

It features eight brand new teams based in Leeds, Birmingham, Cardiff, Manchester, Nottingham, Southampton and two in London, with each side playing eight group fixtures, including home and away encounters against their special paired rival – in Superchargers’ case, the Manchester Originals based at Old Trafford.

A women’s competition runs at the same time with all but two games – the women’s match between Oval Invincibles and Manchester Originals that starts the tournament at the Oval on July 21, followed by the men’s match between the same teams the following day – running as double-headers.

The aim is to raise the profile of women’s cricket through The Hundred and means that Superchargers’ fans will be able to watch Lehmann’s team and also that of Superchargers’ women’s coach Danielle Hazell on the same day.

After the group fixtures end on August 18, there will be a men’s and women’s eliminator at The Oval on August 20 between the second and third-placed teams in the respective leagues.

They will compete for a place in the final at Lord’s the following day. All games will be broadcast live on Sky with extensive coverage by BBC.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” says Stokes.

“With it being postponed last year, it’s added even more excitement to it this year, along with the prospect of having full crowds.

“Allowing crowds back into cricket is great for The Hundred because obviously with it being a new format you want to be able to do that; you want to be able to bring a new audience in.

“Fingers-crossed that’s able to happen. We’re back playing in front of crowds in the Test series in India, and we really missed having that atmosphere and buzz around the cricket stadium. Having that atmosphere and having people in and watching just adds another dimension.”

Ultimately, Stokes is hoping that The Hundred can inspire the next generation.

“Attracting a new audience and inspiring the next generation of cricketers is vital,” he says.

“We want to get new boys and girls into the sport so that in 10-15 years’ time they’re wearing an England shirt because of what we’ve been able to achieve on the field.”

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