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Mystery benefactor who helped rise of England cricket's newest star, Ben Stokes

For millions of cricket fans it was a thrilling display of aggressive batting to fortify the heart against the January blues.

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Ben Stokes scores fastest ever 250

England all-rounder Ben Stokes reflects on his incredible record-breaking innings of 285 in the second Test against South Africa in Cape Town.

But for one mystery onlooker, Ben Stokes' record-breaking 258 against South Africa will also have been the culmination of an anonymous gift to a talented but erratic schoolboy player.

Sensing potential greatness in the then 13-year-old, a mystery benefactor agreed to fund private coaching through the winter to iron out flaws in his batting and bowling.

Double ton: Ben Stokes reaches his 200.
Double ton: Ben Stokes reaches his 200. Photo: Julian Finney

More than a decade later however, with the coaching now handsomely paid off, the identity of the benefactor on Sunday remained a mystery, with Stokes' first coach in England vowing never to reveal the secret.

Jon Gibson, who still teaches youngsters at Cockermouth Cricket Club in Cumbria, said the identity was known only to him, his wife and the benefactor.

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"There was a benefactor, but we have said we are not going to tell anyone," he told the London Telegraph on Sunday night.

Gibson said watching his former pupil rack up the fastest ever England double century had been "very, very pleasing", but when he coached the young Stokes, he never expected him to represent his country.

Young gun: Ben Stokes, aged nine.
Young gun: Ben Stokes, aged nine. 

Gibson said Stokes, who arrived at the club soon after he moved with his family from New Zealand, clearly had power and ability, but was technically erratic.

He said: "He was a bit raw in his first couple of years. He was very powerful, that was obvious, he was very, very strong and he was a natural timer of the cricket ball, but he was erratic in his technique. We ironed that out and he became a lovely player. He loved practising, he would have spent seven days a week playing down at the club if he could. He threw himself into practice. We did some individual sessions through him with the winter."

Record breaker: Ben Stokes celebrates at Newlands.
Record breaker: Ben Stokes celebrates at Newlands. Photo: Julian Finney

Stokes arrived in the Cumbrian town when his rugby league coach father, Ged, came to work with nearby Workington. Despite being a talented young rugby league player himself, the young Stokes was under no pressure to follow in his father's footsteps and devoted himself instead to cricket.

He had received some coaching in New Zealand, but when he first turned up at the Cockermouth's nets, his bowling was wayward and his batting was powerful but raw.

Gibson said: "People say, did you think he was going to play for England? No of course I didn't. In a small town you don't get to work with people who go on to represent their country very often. He was the best I have I have ever coached, but was he going to play for England, how would I ever know?"

The triumph of a Cockermouth Old Boy had provided much needed cheer to the club, he said, which saw its grounds submerged in recent flooding.

Stokes' innings, which saw him reach the landmark in only 163 balls in the second Test against South Africa in Cape Town, was praised as "magnificent" by Ian Botham.

He said: "We knew he'd got it, and this is the tip of the iceberg. He'll get it wrong once in a while but he is a guy that wins matches, and they don't come along very often."

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