Ben Stokes truly discovered how special England’s dressing-room spirit was when he found himself on the outside looking in.
The 28-year-old capped an amazing tale of redemption by winning the public vote for the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year prize on Sunday night after a stunning summer defined by two innings which have earned him English cricketing immortality.
His unbeaten 84 paved the way for a Super Over success in the World Cup final against New Zealand in July and he followed that up just over a month later with arguably the greatest Test innings of all time – a match-winning 135 not out against Australia at Headingley.
It was all a far cry from the winter of 2017, when in the wake of an incident outside a Bristol nightclub Stokes was left out of the touring Ashes squad.
He was ultimately cleared of affray in 2018, and Stokes admits those difficult times illustrated how strong the support network around him was.
“Sport has an amazing way of picking you back up,” he said.
“It’s when you’re out of the team that you feel it. When you’re in the team you’re in the bubble, it’s just sort of day by day, you know – training, playing.
“When that gets taken away from you, and you’re not around the people that you’re generally spending time with, but they have taken time out of their days to keep in contact, ask ‘how are you?’ and stuff like that, that’s when you really know that you’re part of something quite special.
“That wasn’t just for the first eight to nine weeks, it was until I got back into the team. Even though I wasn’t there, I was made to feel like I was.”
Stokes returned to the England set-up in August 2018 before going on to light up the summer of 2019.
As run-rates climbed and wickets fell, Stokes seemed to be the only man in the country not chewing their fingernails to the quick.
But despite the swashbuckling nature of those era-defining innings, he insisted: “I think people who say they aren’t nervous are probably telling a little white lie. Nerves get you going, playing so much and at the highest level you’re bound to be nervous.
“But once you step out there and once you’re in that moment, you’re in a place where you’re comfortable, you’re in a place which you know.
“When you’re out there as a batter I just try to envision myself in a bubble, anything outside of that I try not to let it in, I just look at what I’ve got to do when I’ve got the bat in hand.”
Stokes’ heroics secured him first place in the annual awards ahead of six-time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton and 200 metres world champion Dina Asher-Smith.
The 24-year-old sprinter’s coach John Blackie was named Coach of the Year, while the England one-day side won Team of the Year and the decisive run-out in the World Cup final was chosen as the Greatest Sporting Moment of the Year.
Eleven-time Paralympic gold medallist Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson won the Lifetime Achievement award while the Helen Rollason award for outstanding achievement in the face of adversity went to former Scotland rugby lock Doddie Weir, who has fund-raised for motor neurone disease since being diagnosed with the degenerative condition.