2019 was always going to be an exciting year of cricket, with both the World Cup and Ashes taking place in the same year, but I don’t think anyone could have expected how truly thrilling and exhilarating it was. It’s been some time since the season ended, but I, for one, am only starting to process what we witnessed. At times, it felt more like theatre than sport – but some of the finishes couldn’t even be scripted. From the World Cup final, and the Headingley Ashes Test to T20 Blast finals day – the drama never stopped! And, of course, the protagonist in this most epic summer of cricket was England’s hero, “Superman”, Ben Stokes. In his words, “it has been a blast” which sums it up nicely, but if you look deeper you see not only memorable match winning performances, but a genuinely remarkable redemption story, which has also rejuvenated cricket in general.
Cast your mind back to the autumn of 2017 and what the public perception of Stokes was after the incident in Bristol. His sponsor at the time, New Balance, cut their ties with him, stating “it does not condone behaviour… that does not match our brand culture and values”. After this, many were wondering if he’d even play the game again. Even after being acquitted of affray, his place in the England team was far from guaranteed – sometimes the England selectors value personality and good behaviour more highly than cricketing ability, just ask Alex Hales…
Four months prior to the not guilty verdict, Nottingham based cricket bat manufacturer, Gunn & Moore (GM), stepped in, taking a chance when others wouldn’t. At the time, the future of his cricket career was in the balance, not just his England career. He was a risky player to take a chance on, but take a chance GM did, and Ben Stokes never looked back. For me, GM and Ben Stokes is a marriage made in heaven, and signing him was one of the shrewdest business moves I can ever remember in sport. GM’s Cricket Marketing Manager, Tom Coffey, had this to say about him:
“It seemed to us at GM that Ben Stokes without a bat sponsor was just not cricket. As a cricketer, Ben is ‘box office’ and gets into any side in the World in any format. There are a number of great ambassadors who give many brands great exposure through product endorsement, but converting that endorsement into sales is not straight forward and not something you can easily put a figure on. There are only a handful of players in world cricket who you could call a bat seller, Ben being one of them, and as one of the ‘traditional’ brands of cricket equipment, it’s what we’re in the market to do!
At the start of the summer, if you’d have offered English cricket fans a World Cup win and a drawn Ashes series I think most would have taken it, but not even the most optimistic of fans could have predicted the personal success Ben achieved on the field. Having conversations within cricketing circles, it’s difficult to put his achievements into context given the match situations and challenges he faced, but the telling thing for me is that Ben and England have got people talking about cricket who wouldn’t ordinarily have had an interest. People have sat up and taken notice which is great for the game and if it encourages children or parents to pick up a cricket bat or ball then that’s one of the biggest wins of the summer.”
Ben Stokes not only saved the England cricket team on a number of occasions this year. He has saved cricket in general in this country. Since his heroics, we at It’s Just Cricket have enjoyed a late season sales spike unlike anything we’ve seen before in our eight years of trading. GM reported the same and couldn’t recall a busier year since 2005, when that unforgettable Ashes series captivated the nation. It’s probably not a coincidence that GM were, comfortably, our best selling brand this year!
Time and again this summer we met customers who wanted to get back into the game after years away from it, and some who’ve never played cricket at all, but are suddenly drawn to it. And it’s largely thanks to the performances of one man. A true inspiration, Ben Stokes has breathed life back into cricket in the UK, when it was most needed. Cricket is part of the national conversation again, for the first time since 2005.
Participation numbers in the UK have been declining for several years running, and numerous cricket clubs up and down the country have been lost as a result. According to Sport England, fortnightly participation in cricket among over-16s has fallen 20 per cent in the last three years alone, and the overall number of those who play once a year is down eight per cent. But it looks like that is set to change now. Suddenly people want to play cricket again. The youth of today have a new sporting role model, someone they can look up to and aspire to emulate. So, thank you, Ben Stokes!