In an in-depth, exclusive feature in New Zealand’s Weekend Herald, England all-rounder Ben Stokes discussed the huge impact his father Ged has had on his life.
Ben left England partway through England’s Test series against Pakistan to be with his father back home. Ged was taken ill during England’s tour of South Africa, with the Weekend Herald revealing the cause of the initial illness as a brain bleed. Ben said that has changed his approach since then, making him more likely to play through injury, although he hardly wrapped himself in cotton wool before.
“I got a hundred in Port Elizabeth and I didn’t get a chance to get emotional at the time but afterwards, sitting in the changing room, it all came out,” Ben says. “Having something like that happen to your dad is pretty tough to deal with. It was a total shock.
“I was carrying a knee injury in South Africa but I felt my attitude change. What’s a sore knee? I can bowl another over or I can bowl another spell. I decided an injury meant very little compared with what Dad was going through. That has been there since because I felt Dad might not see me play again.”
Scans later revealed brain tumours, something Ben said he expected.
“Even when I left South Africa to get back home, I had a feeling something else would happen,” he said. “I felt like I was constantly preparing myself for another phone call, so when it came it wasn’t necessarily a surprise but it didn’t make it any easier.”
Ben also explained how him leaving England was in part down to his own mental state, as well as a desire to be with his father. “I didn’t sleep for a week and my head wasn’t really in it. Leaving was the right choice from a mental point of view.”
The Weekend Herald went into great detail about Ged’s incredible life. A former New Zealand rugby league international, he would throw himself into action in a similar manner to his son, sustaining a succession of injuries in the process. His career was ended by a fractured neck, while he has also broken his jaw, nose, and skull, the latter on three occasions.
Ged also had a finger on his left hand amputated from the first knuckle upwards, something Ben now pays tribute to whenever he reaches a century. However Ben said his father has softened as he has aged.
“His reputation sort of speaks for itself,” said Ben. “You speak to anyone who knows him, played with him or worked with him, they’d all say the same thing. Most people acquire a softer side with age and sometimes with Dad that has been quite weird to see. What he’s going through has brought that side out as well – we all knew he had it, he just didn’t show it that often. But now with where he’s at, it’s coming out a lot more. It’s been nice to see after growing up for 29 years with a pretty tough and stubborn father.”
Ben credited his father’s role as a coach as playing a part in him taking up a career as a cricketer. “I think it probably did lead me down a path to becoming a professional sportsman,” Ben said. “I was around a group of professional sportsmen from such a young age – I’m sure that’s had some influence.”
He also explained how his father drove him to work hard in the early stages of his career.
“As I got older and got to the stage where I was taking more responsibility for myself, he was hard on me, especially as a teenager – 17, 18, 19, when you’re a bit rebellious – he was tough,” Ben said. “But as I got older I realised it was all for a reason. He knew I wanted to be a professional sportsman and he was drilling that into me as I started to make a career in cricket. I didn’t realise it at the time but when I look back I know he was doing it for the right reasons.
“Those two or three years when I was living at home in Cumbria and spending the summers in Durham, having him around me – obviously being a professional sportsman himself and having coached for many years – he showed me the way. He used to get me out of bed early to go to the gym with him when I didn’t want to… all that kind of stuff you don’t appreciate at the time but looking back now I do.
“It’s served me well in life in general – not just cricket. I’ve spent so much time away from home having to fend for myself at such a young age, it was really character building.”