Ben Stokes is happy to admit that concentration can be tricky for him – but put a bat in his hand and all that changes.
Stokes produced a crucial knock as England won the World Cup for the first time, making an unbeaten 84 to force a super over in which he and Jos Buttler scored 15 to help the hosts to victory at Lord’s.
While his team-mates lost their wickets in the face of some inspired New Zealand bowling, Stokes knuckled down for almost two-and-a-half hours under intense pressure.
Stokes in a past interview admitted: “I’m not a good listener in a team talk that lasts more than 15 minutes – I find it very hard to concentrate.”
But his concentration in the middle came as no surprise to his former secondary school PE teacher, who had seen similar performances in the past.
Cockermouth School PE teacher Chris Hayes told PA: “I was absolutely convinced he would not be out. I’ve seen that in him before. He won’t give his wicket away.
“He’ll take that responsibility to try and see the job through and close the deal – and by hook or by crook he did.
“He had that determination all the time, that game management as well as the talent. It doesn’t surprise me at all that he was able to do that.
“You talk about his lack of concentration in the team meeting or school environment, but the ability to concentrate with that bat in hand is unbelievable and he showed that on many occasions with us.”
Hayes taught Stokes for four years at secondary school in Cumbria.
Stokes’ family had moved over from New Zealand after father Ged became head coach for rugby league side Workington.
Ged’s son joined Cockermouth School and also started playing cricket for Cockermouth Cricket Club with many of the same players.
Hayes found a typical 12-year-old boy, who “loved his sport”. His talent at football and rugby shone through the winter before the summer allowed him to show what he can do on the cricketing field.
Hayes, who is about to retire after spending 27 years at the school, said: “He was a naturally-able sportsman, physically very able and highly coordinated.
“He wanted to be involved in all formats of the game – his batting, his bowling, his fielding. He could throw the ball further than anybody I’d ever seen.”
Stokes’ arrival added to a team Hayes said already had a number of “very talented cricketers” and he named that group as the highlight of his coaching career.
“They were the most able team that I’ve ever had,” he added.
“We were able to compete as a state secondary school with the elite of the public schools, on an equal level in terms of ability. And we beat quite a few of them.”
Hayes soon found out Stokes learned best by doing.
Hayes said: “One of the terms is a kinesthetic learner, which basically means you only learn through movement. Anything to do with being still and listening, yeah (it was hard to get him to concentrate).
“Personally, he never let me down. He was always supportive of PE. It was his natural environment.”
It was clear to Hayes back then that Stokes would go on and make a career for himself in the game, but even he could not have envisaged just how far that would take the Durham all-rounder.
“I was pretty convinced he would be a professional cricketer, ” Hayes said.
“He came through and matured in the game at the same time as Twenty20 took off.
“I thought he could play T20 for England potentially, knowing he could reach the boundary – he’s always been able to hit the ball. The interesting thing to me is that he’s made his mark in Test matches as much as he has in the one-day game.
“He’s not just a professional cricketer, he’s not just an international cricketer, he’s actually a world-class cricketer. You can’t really spot that!
“You think this lad is good and he’ll make a cricketer, but to go on and be a world-class cricketer… he’s been unbelievable.”
Stokes’ success in the World Cup final came at the end of a difficult few years.
He missed the last Ashes defeat following his well-documented brawl in Bristol – an incident that concluded with his acquittal on a charge of affray.
And before that he was hit for four sixes in the last over of the World T20 final by Carlos Brathwaite as the West Indies beat England in India.
But as he faced being the man of the moment again in the closing stages of another final, Stokes would not have thought about what happened with Brathwaite, according to Hayes.
“I think he would still have immense belief in his own ability,” he said. “That wouldn’t enter his head again – it might have done if he’d had to bowl a super over!
“Personally, I think Brathwaite was good, I don’t think Ben was that bad. If Ben had played a bad shot yesterday and got out, he’d never have forgiven himself, whereas I think with that bowling he thinks, ‘Well fair dinkum to Brathwaite, you were good’.”
This time, Stokes was the one celebrating at the end of the contest and up north his former PE teacher watched every ball.
Hayes has received a signed shirt from Stokes to mark his upcoming retirement and he is left to reflect on having a role in the development of a player named man of the match in a World Cup final.
“It’s one of the privileges of my job,” said Hayes.
“You get to have these children and people that cross your path and you have moments with them and they are memorable moments that nobody can ever take away. We had some great adventures.”