WAG the saviour behind Stokes' revival
ASHES hero Ben Stokes will go down as one of England's greatest cricketers after his stunning exploits against the Aussies and in the recent World Cup, but less than a year ago the diehard Newcastle United fan was facing life behind bars after getting involved in a booze-fuelled street fight.
Before Stokes, 28, was the toast of Lord's and Headingley, scoring 84 not out and then 135 not out, he was 10 alcoholic drinks deep and engaged in an argument with two men outside a Bristol nightclub in the early hours of a September morning in 2017.
A fight broke out and the beefy 180cm tall all-rounder used the hands he destroyed Australia and New Zealand with to batter his victims, knocking both out with a flurry of punches captured on CCTV, breaking one man's eye socket.
It could've been the beginning of the end for Stokes and his career, well before his outstanding displays in the crease.
But the courageous batsman said he acted in self-defence and was protecting two gay men from homophobic abuse from the pair he attacked. A jury sided with the Durham star, and in August 2018 he was cleared of affray.
Ben was in the last-chance saloon, his reputation in tatters, and he missed an Ashes series as well as a string of vital ODI matches.
The cricket authorities banned Stokes for six games after he pleaded guilty last December to bringing the game into disrepute.
And he was suspended for two further games for mocking Katie Price's disabled son Harvey in a Snapchat video.
Stokes was fined a total of £30,000 and allowed to resume cricket, as his ban had been served from the games he had missed.
It was a lesson learned the hard way for Stokes, but ended up being the making of the man who has redeemed himself in the past month or so with some of the best cricket an England batsman has ever performed under pressure.
And it was his self-confessed "cricket widow" wife Clare who helped get him get on the straight-and-narrow after years of excess.
HE HAD A RAPSHEET
In September 2017, Stokes readily revealed a penchant for drinking during five-day Test matches. He told The Times: "Why not? We're grown men, go out for dinner, have a few pints. I'm 26, not 14. I don't have to drink Diet Coke with dinner."
But it wasn't just a few pints that Stokes was sinking. Jagerbombs, a mix of Red Bull and the liqueur Jagermeister, were his favourite shot.
Asked how many could get through in a night, he once said: "I've lost count after 20."
However, it was the booze that often led him down a dark path where he made daft decisions.
In December 2011 he was arrested and cautioned for obstructing police during a night out with a pal in the Cumbrian town of Cockermouth. Stokes spent a night in the cells, calling it the worst experience of his life.
"I woke in the morning and was given my breakfast through the meal flap in the door. It was like a scene from The Shawshank Redemption," he said.
In February 2013, Stokes was sent home from Australia after boozing into the early hours on a Lions tour for up-and-coming players.
"You don't want to play for England. You just want to p**s it up the wall with your mates," coach Andy Flower barked at him - and it did seem that way.
In January 2015 he was given a verbal warning for breaking a team curfew following a function on an England Lions tour of South Africa.
Then, in August 2017 he was spotted out at 3am in Manchester bar Crazy Pedro's- just hours before the second day of the Test match against South Africa. Something had to give.
After his incredible unbeaten 84 and Super Over heroics against the Kiwis in the World Cup final, Stokes saluted wife Clare, who he has kids Layton and Libby with, revealing in a TV interview she had helped him turn his life around.
"Clare is like my best friend and she and my family have helped me through the ups and downs. As long as they are there, that's all that matters," he said.
"I really miss Clare and the children when I'm on tour. Cricket and family are my life. I've learned lessons that will stay with me."
Their love affair began in 2010, when the pretty brunette primary school teacher took a liking to Stokes on a family trip to see Lancashire play Durham at Old Trafford.
In his memoir Firestarter, he revealed: "I noticed her, she noticed the name on the back of my shirt, and before the end of the game she was submitting a friend request on Facebook."
Etched on his right forearm in ink is a tattoo of a phoenix rising from the ashes - poignant given his display against David Warner and Co.
"Obviously, the symbolism with the phoenix is that if it gets put down, it gets back up and comes back stronger," he explained his reasoning for his choice of inking.
On the other arm, he's got an inscription that reads: "Being the best you can be is only possible if you desire to be a champion and your fear of failure is non-existent."
The body art also pays homage to his heritage. New Zealand-born Stokes has a silver fern, a symbol of the country, on his left bicep and his back is covered in a pride of lions.
Just over a month on from his incredible display of bravery and skill at the World Cup, Stokes was at it again to get England right back in this Ashes series.
After a woeful dismissal in the first innings, where he needlessly chased a wide ball and chipped the ball into the slips, Stokes went on to take the game by the scruff of the neck.
On a sweltering evening, Australia began to take real control of the match as they extended their lead well over 200, 250, 300.
Stokes charged up to the crease time and again, at one stage bowling 15 overs straight, with each ball as quick and accurate as the last.
In the tourists' second innings, Stokes bowled a gut-busting 24.2 overs, taking three wickets for just 56 runs, including seven maidens.
There is no doubt his incredible, tireless spell set-up England's win, long before he'd even strolled out to the crease to kick-off his batting heroics.
At the close of day three, Stokes had just two runs to his name from 50 balls.
Ever-maturing, Stokes knew exactly how priceless his wicket was and did exactly what no England batsman could in the first innings - leave the ball outside off stump and ensure he did not get out.
As wickets began to tumble around him, Stokes moved up through the gears - and his barrage of big, brave sixes saw him drag England kicking and screaming back into the Ashes.
He ended up 135 not out from 219 balls, including eight sixes - with his final 74 runs coming from just 42 balls.
That would be a destructive innings opening up in a Twenty20 match, let alone during a 10-wicket stand to win an Ashes Test match
A loss at Headingley would have seen the Ashes stay with the Aussies - not on Kiwi-born Stokes' watch.
This article originally appeared on The Sun and was reproduced with permission.