A new documentary charts the peaks and troughs of Ben Stokes’ career.
Of course he does. It’s the day the documentary’s out and Ben Stokes is going to make it a memorable one. He comes in at 134-4, with England still trailing by 17 and the score soon to be 147-5. But Stokes takes his side from a nervy position to a match-winning one. Ben Foakes is excellent, but England’s captain is the star. He raises the bat for his 12th Test century and his first as captain.
This is a career that has been about seizing the moment, a point reflected in the film through his two great rescue acts from the summer of 2019. The World Cup final at Lord’s and the Ashes Test Headingley are both given plenty of airtime – rightly so – reminding you once again of just how maddeningly brilliant Stokes was during those couple of months. During the former, it’s perhaps what he does away from the middle that stands out. “He just said that it doesn’t matter the result here today. It doesn’t define you as a person or a player,” says Jofra Archer, recounting Stokes’ words to him in the build-up to the Super Over. Stokes, who’d come undone by Carlos Brathwaite’s four sixes in the 2016 World T20 final, knew what he was talking about.
When it comes to Headingley, Australia’s sledges are caught on tape, bringing you closer to the heat out in the middle: the Ashes on the line, a record-breaking chase required, and Stokes losing partner after partner. “Anybody who says that they don’t get nervous, they don’t feel pressure – it’s just a crock of shit,” says Stokes. And yet he holds his own to cut away for four and seal his name into Ashes folklore.
Those are the highs, but there isn’t a shying away from the lows. On the field, there’s Kolkata. Off it, there’s the Bristol brawl of 2017 and its aftermath, an episode that left Stokes wanting to quit his England career.
But the real impact of the documentary comes from more recent events. We see Stokes in New Zealand as Ged, his father, battles terminal brain cancer in late 2020. The following year, we’re taken into a room where Stokes takes questions from Sam Mendes. It is a jarring thing to see Stokes the way he is, England’s all-action hero carrying an empty look on his face as he takes a break from the game to take care of his mental well-being. His struggles are well and truly out in the open as he vividly details the panic attacks he has suffered.
Stokes occupies the centre of English cricket. He is the country’s talismanic all-rounder and, now, as Test captain, the main man. So for him to be so revealing about his mental health feels like a moment, a significant voice in a vital conversation that has begun to grow louder and louder in recent years.
Ben Stokes: Phoenix from the Ashes doesn’t dive deep into the craft of Stokes. You won’t learn about how the southpaw’s batting ability has developed over time, nor will you come to know about the intricacies of Stokes the bowler. But then again, this isn’t really the point of this portrait. For a cricketer who relies so much on heart and desire, going into the nitty and gritty of technique just wouldn’t be right. Instead, the documentary revels in the extraordinary moments of a truly extraordinary cricketer.