Fraternising with the enemy may be frowned upon in some sporting circles but England’s Ben Stokes admits he was happy to take tips from Australia captain Steve Smith during the Indian Premier League.
Come November 23 at the Gabba the pair will be on opposite sides of cricket’s oldest rivalry, competing in the first Test of the Ashes, but for much of the last six weeks they have been sharing the Rising Pune Supergiant’s dressing room.
Stokes was named the competition’s most valuable player after scoring 316 runs and taking 12 wickets for the eventual runners-up, but was happy to accept advice from an unlikely Antipodean ally in the nets.
“Once you get in the same team together you obviously want the same goal, which is to win, and if a guy wants to improve on something and another guy has a tip that can help they are obviously going to share that with you,” said Stokes, England’s Test vice-captain.
“I remember doing a batting session with some power hitting towards the end where the guy who I will actually be playing against in the Ashes (Smith) was helping me, which is something that you would never be able to fathom when you are playing against each other.
“From the hype around England against Australia, then playing with him….it was really good actually.
“You have got two guys who are going to play each other, who want to be winning and have their own ways of going about it, who end up working together – the IPL is probably the only place where you get that. You just get knowledge from your team-mates whether they be Indian, Australian, South African or whatever it is, which is the great thing about the IPL.”
The last 4 months here in India have been incredible. There has been some ups and downs along the way but I've learnt such a great deal. The Test matches were tough but so enjoyable to be apart of. I've met some wonderful people, and I've made some new friends. The IPL and playing with Pune has been a terrific experience and I look forward to spending my last night here in India battling it out in the Final. Thank you to everyone here in India that has made this trip so unforgettable. #grateful #opportunity ✌🏼️👌🏽🙏🏻
Asked if Smith’s insights were entirely authentic, a grinning Stokes added: “It would be a good tactic if he wasn’t!”
As well as expanding Stokes’ network of contacts, his £1.7million deal with Pune has seen his status as one of the game’s global elite soar. His name will be high on the list of franchises the world over and he can expect an even bigger payday in next year’s draft.
And while he may be able to wander the streets of Headingley, where the Royal London One-Day series against South Africa gets under way on Wednesday, without too much trouble, he is now a fully fledged sub-continental celebrity.
“You can walk across the road here and get a coffee without “selfie, selfie, selfie” and this kind of stuff,” he said. “Cricket is a religion out in India and it’s completely different to England. They go mad for it.
“They’ll queue up for five hours just to get a seat just to see ( Pune team-mate) MS Dhoni walk out onto the pitch. It’s an amazing place to experience but I just think it’s different wherever you go in the world and India is obviously the extreme of it.”
The terms of Stokes’ release by the England and Wales Cricket Board meant he was unable to feature in the semi or final for Pune, instead joining up with Trevor Bayliss’ squad for a get together in Andalucia ahead of a packed international summer.
Former England skipper Kevin Pietersen, commentating at the IPL, was aghast that Stokes and Jos Buttler, who played for eventual champions Mumbai Indians, were not allowed to feature in showpiece because of “beers in Spain “.
Stokes used the same three words to caption an Instagram video of a group gym session at the camp and insists the time was not wasted.
“I think there was a lot of criticism about that purely because it was in Spain. If we’d done something like that in England I don’t think there would have been a bean said at all,” he said.
“We did a lot of fitness work, fielding work and a lot of team bonding stuff whether that be golf in the morning, quiz at night time. I think the whole thing got blown up because it was in Spain and obviously you associate Spain with sunshine, beer, parties and not hard work. But we did a lot of hard work.
“There was a lot of stuff around saying I should have been able to play (in the final) but it was agreed from the start…that was as long as I was going to stay regardless of what happened. “Playing for England is always the main priority in decisions like that, it was made very clear at the start of the tournament.”
Sri Lankan cricketing legend Kumar Sangakkara has confirmed he will retire from first-class cricket at the end of the present English county championship season in September.
The 39-year-old – fifth in the list of all-time Test run scorers averaging more than 57 runs in 134 Tests, making 11 double centuries – is still in prime form having scored two centuries for Surrey in their match with Middlesex which finished on Monday.
However, Sangakkara — also one of the all-time great limited overs batsmen and a member of the Sri Lanka side that reached both the 2007 and 2011 World Cup finals (losing to Australia and India respectively) — said he could sense the time was right to retire.
“You try to fight the inevitable but you need to get out while you’re ahead,” Sangakkara, who was a pivotal member of the Sri Lanka team that lifted the 2014 World Twenty20 trophy and lost in both the 2009 and 2012 finals, told the BBC.
“It’s the last time I’ll play a four-day game here. I’ll be 40 in a few months, this is about the end of my time in county cricket.”
Kumar Sangakkara has become the first Sri Lankan to reach 20,000 first-class runs! pic.twitter.com/b5LFIasXov— ESPNcricinfo (@ESPNcricinfo) May 22, 2017
Sangakkara, who formed a swashbuckling partnership on many occasions with fellow Sri Lankan legend Mahela Jayawardene, said he didn’t want to make the error of overstaying his welcome.
“The biggest mistake that sometimes you can make is that you think you’re better than you really are,” he said.
“Cricketers, or any sort of sportsperson, have an expiry date and you need to walk away.
“I have been very lucky to play for as long as I did so but there’s a lot more life to be lived away from the game.”
A good all-round performance from India saw them defeat South Africa by eight wickets in the final of the Quadrangular Series in Potchefstroom on Sunday.
After Mithali Raj won the toss and elected to bowl first in her 100th ODI as captain, South Africa were bowled out for just 156 despite a 73-run partnership between Sune Luus (55) and Mignon du Preez (30) for the third wicket.
South Africa would lose their last six wickets for just 25 runs [from 131-4 to 156 all out], with Jhulan Goswami and Poonam Yadav starring with the ball for India as both took three wickets each. Shikha Pandey picked up two wickets, while Ekta Bisht and Deepti Sharma got one wicket each.
In reply, India lost the in-form Deepti for just eight and when Mona Meshram was dismissed soon after, the visitors seemed to be in a spot of bother at 33-2.
The experienced duo of Punam Raut and Mithali Raj were on hand to make sure that there were no more hiccups for the Indian team as they put on an unbeaten 127-run partnership.
Raut scored 70 not out from 92 deliveries while Raj (62*) notched up her 46th half-century in ODIs as India won the match with 17 overs to spare.
South Africa 156 all out, 40.2 overs (Luus 55, Goswami 3-22, Yadav 3-32) lost to India 160-2, 33 overs (Raut 70*, Raj 62*, Kapp 1-22) by eight wickets.
Player of the Match – Punam Raut
Player of the Series – Deepti Sharma