So short is his temper, that when Ben Stokes - English cricket's answer to Superman - makes a rare low score with the bat or has an off-day with the ball, he has been known to damage his dressing-room locker.

Aware that the match-winning all-rounder has a self-destructive fuse, opponents goad him with insults designed to send him into a blind rage and put him off his game.

England's team psychologist has tried everything to help Stokes keep his cool, the latest tactic being to urge him to slowly and methodically pack every item of equipment in his kitbag on returning to the pavilion, in the hope that he might calm down during the ten minutes it takes to complete this laborious task.

According to those close to the flame-haired firebrand, whose thrillingly explosive playing style is comparable with that of the legendary Sir Ian Botham, it seemed to be working. In the early hours of Monday, however, when he became embroiled in a shameful street brawl, it appeared nothing would have stopped him in his tracks.


So what could be behind his confrontational manner? The obvious place to look is his childhood. Though many England fans prefer to forget it, Stokes is actually a New Zealander by ancestry and birth. His red hair and freckles come from his father's side of the family, but he also has Maori blood from his mother's distant relatives - a connection of which he is proud enough to mark with a tattoo on his arm.

Born in Christchurch in June 1991, his mother's work frequently took her away from home, so he spent much time with his father, a teak-tough rugby player so determined to get back into action after injuring a finger that he had it amputated at the knuckle rather than waiting for it to mend.

It was a streak his son inherited. When Stokes was 13, the family moved to the UK, where his father took a coaching job. They settled in the Cumbrian town of Cockermouth, where he was teased for his accent and did not fare well academically - leaving school with just two GCSEs - but earned popularity for his sporting heroics. Yet as a friend told me, 'Trouble always seemed to follow him around, like a moth to a flame.'

In a school rugby match, an opposition player took such a dislike to him that he ran up and punched Stokes just as he was about to take a conversion kick. A melee ensued and the game was abandoned. He also broke his hand during a cricket match after an altercation with the pavilion door.

That trouble continued after his career began. In 2013, when he toured Australia with the England Lions (effectively, the national reserve team), Stokes and a team-mate were flown home in disgrace after persistent late-night drinking. Ordering him to pack his bags, coach Andy Flower gave it to him straight: 'You don't want to play for England. You just want to p*** it up the wall with your mates and have a good time.'

Stokes, then 22, swore at him and vowed to prove him wrong. By dint of his 'freakish' talent, as the former England Michael Vaughan describes it, he has done so.

But the red mist has continued to descend at regular intervals. In 2014, when he fractured his wrist by smashing it into a dressing-room cupboard, after getting out for a duck in Barbados, team-mates nicknamed him 'The Hurt Locker'.

Another unseemly confrontation came after he was 'sledged' - the cricketing term for insulted out on the pitch - to breaking-point by the temperamental West Indian player Marlon Samuels. When Stokes was bowled out, Samuels mocked him with a salute; Stokes squared up to him and let fly with a volley of abuse, and it seemed for an instant that blows might be exchanged.

We might have thought, for the sake of his career, that he would give up the booze - at least during the playing season - but no. Recklessly, during a recent interview with The Times magazine, he even admitted to drinking during a five-day Test match. 'Why not? We're grown men, go out for dinner, have a few pints,' he said. 'I'm 26, not 14. I don't have to drink Diet Coke with dinner.'

Would anyone agree? Well, we might ask Botham, whose gargantuan appetite for red wine (not to mention cannabis and women) apparently did nothing to impair his fabled career.
And also Freddie Flintoff, suspended and stripped of the vice-captaincy after a drunken night out in St Lucia at the Cricket World Cup, which culminated in him being rescued from a capsized pedal-boat.

Of course, even these other larger-than-life England stars were never involved in scrapes like this. Yet a source who knows them all says there is something in the DNA of the great all-rounder that means they are constantly teetering on the edge of danger.

'If you have this enormous, testosterone-fuelled drive that gives you the ability to crash, bash and destroy on the cricket field, then it is nigh-on impossible to switch it on and off at will, and it can also be enormously self-destructive,' says the insider, who asked not to be named. 'When he's on the field, Ben Stokes sees it as his job to destroy everyone who stands in his path and he does it with ruthless efficiency.

'When you look at that video, I think he had gone into the same mind-set. He looked like he does when he's battling it out for England, and he has to be the last man standing. That's not to excuse his behaviour, but it might explain it.'

Perhaps so. But for his own sake, and that of the sport he dominates, we must hope this is the last we see of Ben Stokes in this kind of incident.