Ben Stokes was the only man who could feasibly have been named the leading cricketer in the world for 2020 by Wisden.

That is the view of former South Africa and Sri Lanka coach Graham Ford, who now leads Ireland.

Stokes ended Virat Kohli's three-year reign in possession of the honour when he was handed the award in April following a stunning 2019 for the England all-rounder.

The 28-year-old helped his country to Cricket World Cup success on home soil.

Stokes was also outstanding in a 2-2 Ashes series draw in which he produced one of the all-time great innings to seal victory in the third Test, scoring 135 not out to see England home by one wicket at Headingley.

"I can't see how [Stokes] couldn't be the recipient of the award," Ford told Stats Perform.

"He's just such a great entertainer, the attitude he shows on the field is just such a fantastic example for any cricketer. It's just a never-say-die attitude.

"At times, the team could be going through a really tough day, somehow he still seems to be enjoying that toughness. It's a freakish type of quality.

"There's a huge excitement for any cricket fan to watch this great entertainer. I mean, who doesn't want to watch batting and entertaining?

"And in the last year he's played these fantastic innings, he's done it before this last year, but in particular this last year he's been fantastic.

"Every single team in the world would want him to be playing for them, it's as simple as that."

A behind-closed-doors T20 World Cup could rob some players of their only chance to play in front of huge crowds, Ireland head coach Graham Ford has said.

The sprint-format competition is due to begin in mid-October when Ford's Ireland take on Sri Lanka, a team he used to coach, in the first round of a tournament being staged in Australia.

Though cricket across the world is currently suspended due to the spread of coronavirus, the ICC said last month that the aim is for the T20 World Cup to be staged as planned.

However, the presence of fans at those matches remains a different matter as all industries continue to observe social-distancing measures.

Ford admitted he is split on wanting to play cricket as soon as it is safe to do so and the possibility of some of his players featuring in perhaps their only major tournament without fans present.

"A personal preference – I feel for the players – but I would just love to see cricket happening," he told Stats Perform.

"On the other side of it, it's such a fantastic experience for players to play in those sort of tournaments with big crowds. I feel as though those players are being let down.

"If there's a way of structuring it that eventually that tournament takes place with the normal crowds, that's definitely first prize. But if that can't happen, well, let's play cricket.

"I think it's quite sad if you get to one T20 World Cup and it's played behind closed doors; it's quite a downer on everything."

Ford also feels that nations like Ireland, who have to make it past the first round to reach the Super 12s, where Australia, holders West Indies and England will enter, will be the most disadvantaged by disrupted preparations.

Ireland have already seen a tour of Zimbabwe, due to happen in April, and a seven-match series against Bangladesh, scheduled for this month, postponed.

"Going into the year, I felt we could make a huge improvement in our cricket because our programme was really exciting," Ford added.

"All of that cricket would have improved a lot of our young guys and, by the time we got to the World Cup, we would have brought on a lot of those cricketers a great deal.

"Unfortunately, that's not happening, so it makes the challenge that much bigger.

"I suppose on the other side, some of the top teams, some of their gun players haven't played cricket for a while, if it works out that way.

"I think it might be easier for a Steve Smith or somebody to turn his game on than one of our 20-year-old players, so it's a bit of a disadvantage.

"From what I've seen from the Irish character and their commitment to try to make things happen and never-say-die attitude, we'll be up for the challenge."

Graham Ford feels Graeme Smith's leadership qualities and intelligence make him the "ideal" man to bring success to South Africa.

Former captain Smith, 39, was appointed Cricket South Africa's (CSA) director of cricket on a permanent basis last month having initially filled the role on an interim basis.

He has already brought some familiar faces on board, with former international colleague Mark Boucher named head coach ahead of the home Test series against England and Jacques Kallis, another South Africa great, joining as a batting consultant.

Last November Smith actually withdrew from consideration for the role he later took due to a lack of "confidence" in the CSA hierarchy, though a restructuring changed his feelings, and ex-Proteas head coach Ford believes he will be a success, provided there is no meddling at boardroom level.

"I think that what he's shown as a player and leader over the years shows he's ideal for this job," Ford, now head coach of Ireland, told Stats Perform.

"He's incredibly driven, he wants to achieve, he's proud. He's been criticised maybe a little bit about some of the appointments he's made. But, from what I know of him, he's only making those appointments because he knows those are the guys that will get it done. It's his reputation at stake at the end of the day.

"You've got a high-quality guy, he knows cricket, he's got an amazing presence about him. Wherever he wants to impact on South Africa cricket, whether it be the women's game, the men's game, dressing rooms or whatever, he will be able to have an impact.

"The bloke is a hell of a cricket thinker as well. I've got no doubt they've got the right chap.

"As long as the rest of the support around him – the upward management – give him the freedom to make decisions, they're in a good space."

Ford was in charge of South Africa when Smith made his debut in 2001 as a 21-year-old against Australia, making 68 in his second innings against a vaunted bowling attack that featured Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and Brett Lee.

The batsman went on to captain South Africa in 109 Tests, which remains an international cricket record.

"If I think back to his debut, [he was] a very young lad, 21 years of age, and he wasn't actually going to play and then Daryll Cullinan pulled out and Graeme sought as much information from the senior players and players around him as possible," Ford recalled.

"We were playing Australia, the mean machine at the time, and he made 60-odd. He took a lot of abuse and for a young lad like that to handle that situation was absolutely amazing.

"He went from strength to strength, he just got better after that. He showed great qualities early on."

Ireland coach Graham Ford insists the team will arrive full of confidence heading into a limited over series against the West Indies at the turn of the New Year.

The teams are scheduled to play a three-match series in both the ODI and Twenty20 format, which will be the first full series for the 9th ranked Windies and 11th ranked Ireland.  The Windies are expected to be a significant challenge for the Irish following a strong showing against top-ranked India under new captain Kieron Pollard.  Ford, however, insists that the tourist will see the tour as one filled with infinite possibilities.

“There is a confidence and self-belief around the camp which comes from recent successes, and we’re looking to build on that in 2020,” Ford said in a recent interview.

 “Being our first-ever multi-format tour of the Caribbean, there is certainly a bit of a buzz around the squad and come the seventh of January, we’ll be more than ready to begin what is an exciting year in Irish cricket,” he added.

"We are very aware of the big challenge that we have here playing away from home coming out of the winter with only indoor training. The West Indies have been playing really good cricket and just pushed the number one team in the world (India) all the way and could have come out on top."

The first ODI scheduled to bowl off in a week’s time at the Kensington Oval.   The second ODI is also scheduled for Kensington Oval on January 9, with the Grenada National Stadium hosting the final ODI.

Grenada will be the venue for the opening T20 international on January 12 before Warner Park in St Kitts will host to back-to-back matches on January 18 and 19.

West Indies have beaten Ireland in seven of 10 ODIs and two of four T20s to date.

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