Firestarter Stokes has long walked a line between brilliant and bolshy

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he Hit Man. Don’t mess with Ben Stokes – he’s fast and furious”. So trumpeted the front page of the Times magazine on Saturday 23 September less than 48 hours before his early-hours arrest in Bristol city centre following a street brawl. The tonally prescient interview with the England cricketer homed in on his reputation for being short-fused and pulled out the quotes: “The adrenaline is there. But I’d never get close to punching someone” and “I’ll have a few pints the night before a match. I’m 26, not 14.”Here was the latest celestial all-rounder of the England cricket team, cut from the same talismanic cloth as Sir Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff before him. But Stokes was also presented as the bad-boy sportsman a casual weekend reader needed to know: a flame-haired, tattooed athlete with a supreme talent but also the propensity to be a lightning rod for incidents on and off the field.This persona, one set up in his 2016 autobiography, Firestarter, and countless interviews before it, was not without basis. A highly charged competitive streak has been a constant from his early years as a schools level prodigy in Cumbria who had arrived with his sporting parents from New Zealand aged 12. The law had been brushed along the way, equipment destroyed, disciplinary points chalked up and, at 21, an early ejection from an England Lions tour for drinking was thrown in for good measure.

But as a cricketer, aged 26 and approaching his prime, Stokes’s on-field stock was sky high at the time of his arrest in Bristol; a left-handed batsman of both destruction and diligence, a right-arm seamer who could swing the ball at pace and a prowling presence in the field with supreme reflexes. Though volatile by way of statistical consistency, Stokes possessed that Herculean ability to summon up match-changing interventions.After catching the eye in Cumbria, and benefiting from additional training paid for by an anonymous sponsor, Stokes signed for Durham’s academy as his Kiwi parents, Ged, a former rugby league player and coach, and Deborah, a counsellor and club cricketer, committed to a twice-weekly five-hour round trip across the Pennines. Stokes soared through the county’s ranks and broke into the first team just shy of his 18th birthday.

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