Ben Stokes has shaved his head in preparation for a hair transplant beloved by cricketers and protecting his exposed skull from the harsh Bajan sun on Thursday was a bright blue brand new England cap.

Presented before play by Steve Harmison, the cap marked Stokes appearing in his 50th test but to him it is a new beginning, the first time he has played for England for nearly 18 months without the events of a drunken night in Bristol hanging over his head.

Last summer he was distracted by the court case, in Sri Lanka he knew he still had to go home and face a cricket disciplinary commission that could have banned him from this tour or worse. Now it is all over. The verdict read out, his ban handed down retrospectively and seen to have already been served. He is free of legal shackles. A landmark such as a 50th cap could not have been better timed.

Ben Stokes is presented with his 50th test cap by former England fast bowler Steve Harmison. Photo / Getty Images
Ben Stokes is presented with his 50th test cap by former England fast bowler Steve Harmison. Photo / Getty Images

Harmison is in the Caribbean commentating for Talksport and his heartfelt speech encapsulated a player he first met at Durham aged 14. He told a hushed England group that after watching a teenage Stokes bowl for an hour in the nets, he was able to tell his then test colleague Andrew Flintoff that England already had another all-rounder waiting to take his place. "I told you in your low times that when the penny dropped you would have the world at your feet," Harmison said.


The multi-million dollar IPL deals have been banked and Stokes has become the backbone of the England team in all formats. In many ways those achievements suggests player for whom the penny dropped long ago. But having apologised for his actions in Bristol and claimed he had "learned the lessons" of his mistakes, Stokes realises the next step is reprising the feats of Flintoff and winning showpiece games for England. Aged 27, Stokes is at his peak physically and with experience to call on as he starts the second half of his career.

England's timeline of woe in West Indies

This test is not an Ashes match and may fade from memory quickly, but without Stokes England would have had little to show for their first day in the series. He was the quickest and best bowler for most of the day, having the pace to bang it in short and not sit up and be hit like Sam Curran with the new ball.

Stokes's nine-over spell either side of tea cost 11 runs but brought two two wickets, dragging England back in it. It was not all brute force. Stokes is accurate, giving little away like he did in his early days when he would try to hard to bowl the magical, unplayable swinging delivery. He knows when to use his skills now and how to build pressure for a wicket.

He broke down Kraigg Brathwaite's limitless patience, finding his edge to end a threatening stand with Shai Hope. He worked out Darren Bravo, tempting him to flash at a wide ball outside off stump, next ball was slower, angled across and Bravo's return to test cricket was over after six balls.

His final wicket in the last over of the day, a short lifter that Kemar Roach gloved to slip, was proof of Stokes's formidable fitness, bowling as quick at the end play as he did at the start.

The players are set a target of running two kilometres on the treadmill in seven and a half minutes. Stokes and Jos Buttler lead the way with an average of six minutes 36 seconds. Speed sessions build stamina and Stokes will need it after bowling 20 overs on the first day of test cricket in 2019.

If England complete the World Cup-Ashes double and Stokes has a Flintoff-esque summer it will catapult him to new levels of fame, which will bring its own tests and distractions, particularly off the field. Then we will truly know if he learned the lessons of Bristol.

On his last tour here four years ago Stokes was too easily wound up by Marlon Samuels, who ridiculed him with a salute when he gifted his wicket in a test in Grenada. Stokes never forgot the insult. Samuels is long gone but their barely concealed loathing made for fascinating viewing.


A new rivalry could be formed in this series, hopefully cricketing rather than personal. In Shimron Hetmyer, West Indies have an attacking, brilliant young strokeplayer capable of matching Stokes six for six. Batting in a sun hat in the final hour of play and slapping the ball over the rope, he counter-attacked like Stokes has done so often for England. Stokes's first ball to him was a beamer, apologies were quickly issued and accepted. Two balls later Hetmyer drilled Stokes through the covers to bring up his 50. Their contest will make for compelling viewing.