Stokes has agreed to discuss England’s World Cup defense, starting in India the following week, but we have taken a detour to talk about Perudo, a South American dice game that has become a craze among the England squad. Andrew Flintoff was one of the most enthusiastic players, with his fellow all-rounder Ben Stokes joining the coaching staff since last year’s unfortunate accident on the set of Top Gear.
“We played it with Fred almost every night during the New Zealand series,” says Stokes, who is now a Test captain in Jos Buttler’s one-day team after reversing his 50-over retirement from the previous year. “You can probably picture it: two or three hours in one of the boys’ rooms, drinking and chatting a bit of nonsense. It’s an excellent game.
“Honestly, having Freddie with the boys was a great experience. Everyone knows what he has gone through since his tragedy. It was fantastic, not only for us as a team but also for him, reintroducing himself to the social scene as a member of the England dressing room. Every day he spent with us, his self-assurance grew.
Does the deception game Perudo, also known as Liar’s Dice, teach any skills applicable to cricket? Stokes cannot recall any.
However, this may be a trick. Few cricketers can match him in reading opponents’ body language and performing under pressure. This interview is based solely on one such instance: his performance as man-of-the-match in the mind-boggling World Cup final four years ago.
“So much time has passed, but every time I enter Lord’s, I remember that day,” says Stokes. “Strangely, I often recall Jimmy Neesham’s six runs during the super over. It was amusing.
“That final ball of the game, the run-out, and everyone rushing onto the pitch… it was pretty cool. People believe I collapsed from emotion, but I simply slid. I thought I did a good job of it.”
His late father, Ged, stated in a documentary last year that “big moments seem to find him” due to his specialization in big games, as exemplified by his recent victory in the T20 World Cup final. A chronic knee injury prevents him from bowling in this World Cup – Stokes remains cryptic about the long-term plan – but it’s clear why Buttler left a position open for him to reconsider his 50-over absence.
“That’s just being a middle-order batsman,” he remarks indifferently. “Openers set the tone, while the rest of us take all the credit. I simply use the scoreboard. When young players ask about my strategy in such situations, I tell them to look up: the scoreboard is your ally. If you do the math, it’s never that bad. In reality, anything is possible.”
Stokes credits Buttler for this strategy and is generally impressed with how his close friend has assumed the responsibilities of white-ball captain. Buttler must balance his wicketkeeping with fielding responsibilities after Eoin Morgan’s departure, while his transformative leadership of the Test team could invite unhelpful comparisons.
“What Jos has done incredibly well is taking on everything of value from Morgs,” says Stokes.
“However, he has also added his own touch and personality. He wants to keep pushing the envelope. As his vice-captain, Moeen Ali excels in communicating with his bowlers from the keeper position. They are perfectly in sync. They are both extremely liberated cricketers and wonderful men.”
What sets Morgan apart? “[Jos] is a bit more stern,” responds Stokes. “He will let us know if our performance falls short of his expectations; that’s his attitude on the pitch. It’s a great trait for a leader not only to expect people to meet the standards they set but also to continually reinforce them on the field and in the locker room.
The World Cup. The World Cup. It was a helpful reminder of the time a player has to construct a 50-over innings – “at one point I looked up and thought, ‘damn, we have 20 overs left’ – as well as the underrated pressures of the one-day format.
Regarding England’s chances of becoming the third team after Australia and West Indies to successfully defend the trophy, he says, “I don’t think it’s arrogant to say that we’re a very strong team. We are involved. And what we now have in our favor, I believe, is experience from massive events – an advantage over teams that don’t participate as frequently.
“I am aware that franchise T20 cricket exposes many more players to these situations, which is fantastic. But nothing compares to wearing your country’s shirt with billions of people watching and knowing that if you lose, you’re out.”
Stokes has reconsidered his 50-over strategy due to the enduring allure of the World Cup, like a moth to a flame. Former Australian Test captain Tim Paine criticized the U-turn, stating it was “self-centered” and unfair to the batters who played during the interim.
“Egocentric?” responds Stokes. “I’d like to think I’ve played long enough for people to realize that term doesn’t describe me.
I had to figure out how I felt after the Ashes. And I was exhausted, needing days of rest afterward. But once I considered the World Cup and the possibility of defending it, everything became clear. It was important to inform Jos. He doesn’t reveal much, but he was enthusiastic.”
Since this summer’s epic 2-2 draw in the Ashes, Stokes claims to be puzzled by some of the teasing from Australia’s current crop; clips of Usman Khawaja, Mitchell Marsh, and Pat Cummins laughing about the English concept of a “moral victory” during a casual time on the Grade Cricketer podcast.
“I genuinely don’t understand their angle. I don’t comprehend why they’re discussing the Ashes in such a way. But honestly, it’s not our concern,” he says with an almost audible shrug.
“You can’t change what happened – the Manchester rain – but you also can’t say for certain we would have won that game. But going down 2-0 and still performing as we did – that gave me immense satisfaction. It would have been easy to retreat, but instead, we took the bull by the horns and gave it everything we had.”
This is essentially what Stokes aimed to achieve as Test captain; a brand of cricket designed to highlight the attacking abilities of the talent pool. When asked if so-called “Bazball” will outlive his own leadership, Stokes responds, “I don’t know. The next captain may have a different squad. Whoever they are, I trust they have learned from me that communication is the most crucial aspect.”
The messaging will remain the same for England’s upcoming five-match Test series in India, starting in January. “It’s the hardest place to win,” he says. “We won there in 2012, and since then, what, one Test victory? I am confident that I have the necessary players and will try.