“He’s a madman.” That was the succinct verdict of Trevor Bayliss, the England coach, on Ben Stokes. It was said with a smile, of course. And meant as a compliment. For it was Stokes’ commitment to the team cause and extraordinary levels of fitness that provoked it.
“Certainly I think he’s learnt a lesson since that time,” Bayliss said, referring to the events of September 2017. “The way he’s conducted himself since he has come back into the fold has been exemplary.”To see him bowl the ball and then chase the ball all the way to wide mid-on to save it, that’s commitment, that. He’s a madman. How many other blokes in the world would you see do that? No one. And that says a lot.
“I got into the lift a couple of nights ago after dinner on the third day and he was getting out. He’d just come back from the gym! That’s how hard he works. He deserves everything he gets from the game.
“You can throw the ball to him, you can put him in any situation with the bat, you can put him where the ball is coming in the field. For me, he’s the first pick. His averages may not be the greatest in each of his positions. But you add those three disciplines together, it adds up to one hell of a player.” “I hope he’s available for our next game,” Bayliss said. “That [case] hasn’t affected him. I haven’t heard it mentioned once around the changing room. He can lift the tempo with whatever he does for the team. The team at different times definitely take his lead.” Stokes’ performance was, in Bayliss’ view, one of the highlights of a memorable tour. But he was equally delighted by England succeeding in conditions in which they have a modest record with a bold approach he has long advocated.
“Our adaptability was probably the most pleasing thing,” he said. “We spoke, before this series, about how if we were going to come here and win we couldn’t do things the same as teams may have done in the past. We had to play a little bit differently to get a different result.
“So, the way the boys went about it, trying to put the pressure back on to the Sri Lankans, well, you really can’t argue with it. It’s been successful.
“To win away from home has been very difficult for most teams. So to come here and win in those conditions, will have given the boys confidence.” Issues remain, though. Bayliss admits that the openers’ spots are “probably not” nailed down and accepts that Jonny Bairstow will have to adapt as a batsman to prosper in conditions where seam bowlers have more assistance.
“In these conditions, batting at No. 3 is no problem for Jonny,” Bayliss said. “His challenge will be when we get home on to the seaming decks. But he’s certainly a very talented player and I’m sure he’ll do whatever he can to adapt his game to that position at home as well.”