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Stokes and Fisher’s bittersweet day in the limelight

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The first thing Ben Stokes did upon reaching his hundred on the second day at Kensington Oval, almost immediately after completing the single that took him there, was take off his left glove. Stokes’ father Ged, who sadly passed away at the end of 2020 after an illness, had the middle finger of his left-hand amputated during his rugby league career. Stokes, in tribute to his Dad, bent his own middle finger back, pointed his hand to the sky and looked upwards. Ged could not be in Barbados to watch his son score his first Test hundred since his passing. But it was a shared moment nonetheless.

It was poignant that Jonny Bairstow was in the middle with Stokes when he reached his century. Bairstow lost his own father, David, when he was young and always looks to the sky when he scores a hundred too, as he did during the opening Test in Antigua. He knew what Stokes was feeling, the mix of emotions he was going through. Bairstow gave him a big, lingering hug in the middle and said something in his ear. “He just said ‘take it all in lad’, in his nice Yorkie accent,” Stokes said after play on Thursday (March 17).

Stokes made 99 in the second ODI against India in Pune last year, four months after Ged’s passing. It was, he said, “a bit of a dagger in the heart” to miss out on three figures then. But he appeared determined not to miss out this time round. Having flailed the West Indies bowling attack to all parts in the second hour of the opening session, he then took 20 deliveries to go from 91 to his century. “It was nice to get there and remember him that way,” Stokes said. “I don’t like to speak selfishly, but it was a nice feeling out there, to look up to the sky.”

Stokes was not the only England player to have reason on the second day to remember those who are no longer with us. Matt Fisher’s father, Phil, passed away when he was 14. Fisher has spoken previously about the bond they had, about how he would always talk cricket with his Dad and how important Phil was to where he is now. Fisher’s Mum would offer support for issues at school or life in general but his Dad would always help with his cricket.

When Joe Root presented Fisher with his cap on the first morning, he said he knew how proud Fisher’s family would be, those that were here and those that weren’t. Fisher bit his bottom lip and looked at the ground, understandably emotional. “When I am playing, that’s when I get the connection with him,” Fisher told the Daily Mail before this tour. Wearing his new blue Test cap, with a huge smile on his face, he could no doubt feel that connection more than ever.

It didn’t take long for Fisher to make his mark with the ball on his international debut. He removed John Campbell with just his second delivery, caught behind. As Fisher sprinted off towards square leg in celebration, he looked skywards and pointed. As it was for Stokes earlier in the day, this was a brief but important shared moment for Fisher with his father. Phil could not be there in person. But by looking up to the sky and thinking of him, his son was able to feel him there.

“Everyone has something which means something to them,” Stokes said. “Seeing the excitement on Fisher’s face even when he got his cap, his smile was ear to ear for 15 minutes. And then obviously you could see how excited he was when he got his wicket today. It means a lot for him and a lot of other people, family and friends, everyone that has supported him.”

Alex Lees made his debut in the previous Test but, like Fisher, his father was sadly not there to see it. Simon Lees passed away when Alex was 18. He never got to see his son make his first-class debut or his England bow but his influence on Lees’ career should not be underestimated. “From when I was four up until 18, I was forcing him to bowl at me in the garden when he might have been a bit tired and grumpy,” Lees said in 2014. “I think almost 100% of it is down to him really.”

Bairstow, who was a teammate of Lees’ at Yorkshire, presented the left-hander with his cap at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium. He said how proud Olivia, Less’ mum, was. “I know your Dad is too,” Bairstow added before giving Lees a big hug. The emotion was clear to see on Lees’ face. He momentarily looked away to compose himself.

Several this England squad have been affected by loss. Dan Lawrence’s Mum, Claire, passed away in the summer of 2020, before he made his Test debut. Matt Parkinson’s mother, Maria, died suddenly in 2019, shortly before his first-England call-up to the T20I side. Parkinson summed up the emotions at the time when he said his selection was “bittersweet”. He wanted more than anything for his Mum to be able to see what her son had achieved. “I’m still proud and I think she would be as well,” he said.

Grief affects us all at some stage and in some way, of course. Special moments are tinged with sadness for those that cannot be there to witness them. Cricketers are no different in that regard. The difference is they are having to deal with these emotions in the public eye. They, like the rest of us, go through pain and anguish. They wish things were different. But they must do their job in front of millions of people. It is what they signed up for. But it doesn’t make it easy.

There has been a lot of happiness on England’s tour to West Indies so far. Hundreds scored, wickets taken, debuts made. But for some players, these moments are difficult too. They wish more than anything for just one more day, just one more hour to let those no longer with us know that they made it and it was, in large part, because of them.

The likes of Stokes and Fisher, Lees and Bairstow, are living their dreams playing for England. Their fathers may not be able to share it with them in person. But these players can still feel their influence. The looks skyward, the raised fingers, the brief moments of reflection, these are ways to stay connected to them. They don’t make up for the loss. They can’t replace the sadness. But they can keep their memories alive.

On day two in Bridgetown, that was certainly the case. The memories of Ged Stokes and Phil Fisher were burning bright in the exploits of their sons

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