Martin Smith column: England’s beacon of light

Ben Stokes plays a shot against South Africa in Cape Town.
Ben Stokes plays a shot against South Africa in Cape Town.
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Thank heavens for Ben Stokes.

In these darkest most dismal days of the year, life-enhancing images of a flame haired giant cracking cricket balls all over the park in brilliant sunshine are beamed into our light-starved lives. And boy do we need them.

Christmas and New Year gone, bills to pay, dark until 8am and dark again at half three, it’s miserable outside and not that cheerful inside.

Cue Stokes and his record-breaking 258 against South Africa.

Newlands in South Africa is traditionally one of the most difficult cricket grounds in the world for visiting batsmen.

So when an England player comes along and smashes 250 under clear blue skies like an Aussie or South African we can only love him, feel the warmth of his talent and be glad he’s one of our own. Even though some will say he isn’t.

Born in New Zealand, he moved to England when he was 12 years old. His dad is former rugby league player and coach Gerard Stokes who moved here to be coach of Workington Town rugby league club and Ben grew up in the small, West Cumbrian town of Cockermouth.

So does that make him a ‘plastic Brit’ and does it matter?

No and no. What we should care about is the fact that if a mystery benefactor hadn’t stumped up cash for extra winter coaching for 13-year-old Ben, we might never have heard of him.

Stokes is a special talent but how many other raw but gifted kids do we lose because they don’t get a lucky break like young Stokes did?

The fact that he was born in New Zealand doesn’t matter. The bigger picture is that without that extra coaching young Stokes might be a teacher, plumber or IT consultant - not that there’s anything wrong with those roles.

Stokes’ success is a triumph for he and his family and for every coach and teacher who helped him to where he is.

The way he hits a cricket ball for England tells everyone all they need to know about his loyalties.

The real injustice is not that he wasn’t born here but that although we’re better at it than we used to be we’re still short of the coaches and funding to help more of our kids do a Ben Stokes, Jessica Ennis-Hill or Mo Farah.

And that does matter.