“Though he failed to score big on Sunday, with the ball, Stokes was back in business. In the initial spells, he kept it tight when Ross Taylor and Tom Latham were going all guns blazing. The wicket was gripping a bit and Stokes was mixing it up with cutters and slow-balls”.
12 off 22 with bat and 2 for 43 with the ball in hand — by Ben Stokes’ standards, it has been a low-key return to international cricket in Hamilton against New Zealand on Sunday. Since the fracas outside a Bristol nightclub on September 25 last year, which led him facing a Crown Court trial on a charge of affray, it was the first time the 26-year old all-rounder wore the England jersey.
Over the past five months, Stokes had been named in several England squads but subsequently ruled out due to the ongoing legal proceedings. He even had to miss the Ashes in which England were thrashed 0-4. However, on February 13, Stokes pleaded ‘not-guilty’ and then joined the team in New Zealand as the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) thinks that he is entitled to the presumption of innocence until any court proceedings are completed.
In this lay-off period, his only competitive cricket was a short stint for Canterbury province in New Zealand’s domestic limited-overs’ competitions. Naturally, Stokes was expected to be rusty. In fact, initially, it was presumed that fitness-wise he would not be able to make it to the playing eleven until the third match of this five-game series. Even coach Trevor Bayliss was reportedly not in favour of fast-tracking him into the playing eleven.
But England’s medical staff have been impressed by his fitness, so much so that one management member said Stokes is in the best physical condition of his life. Well, after getting the medical clearance, it was just a matter of time.
So, Stokes has overcome a lot of odds to get out there on the field and play in the series opener on Sunday. And for the man himself, as well as for English cricket, it has to be a landmark moment as the confidence and the skill set he brings to the team are invaluable.
An impact player – crucial for England’s World Cup fortunes
Make no mistake, Eoin Morgan’s England are an incredible 50-over side and one of the strong contenders of next year’s World Cup, if not the strongest. However, their team management knows if England want to lift the title for the first time, Stokes need to play a crucial role with both bat and ball – maybe something similar to what Yuvraj Singh did for India in the 2011 edition.
Perhaps, that’s why the ECB has fast-tracked in his comeback. He is an irreplaceable member of this team and the more game Stokes plays before the World Cup, the more he will develop as a cricketer. Also, he is an impact player who likes to express himself, both on and off the field – his mere presence in the dressing room can lift the entire side.
Meanwhile, more than anyone, Morgan is perhaps the happiest person in the English camp after Stokes’ return. Being a world-class all-rounder, he brings a lot of balance back in this team. Stokes availability allows Morgan to play either an extra batsman or another bowler.
Though he failed to score big on Sunday, with the ball, Stokes was back in business. In the initial spells, he kept it tight when Ross Taylor and Tom Latham were going all guns blazing. The wicket was gripping a bit and Stokes was mixing it up with cutters and slow-balls.
In fact, it was Stokes who brought England back in the game by getting rid of Latham. Later, when the match was heading towards a nail-biting finish, he put his experience into play, and bowled at the right areas as well as got the wicket of Colin de Grandhomme, with a beautifully disguised back of the hand slower ball. There was no sign of rustiness in his bowling, at all.
Hence, beware New Zealand. In the rest of the series, we can expect the ‘Stokes factor’ to come into play.