It was a familiar story of Ben Stokes’ batting as he led an England attack in the third ODI against New Zealand at the Kia Oval, hitting a record 182 from 124 balls, containing 15 fours and nine sixes.
Stokes steadied the ship after England fell to 13-2, with Jonny Bairstow dismissed for a golden duck, putting Trent Boult straight at square leg, before the New Zealand fast bowler removed Joe Root for four.
But along came Stokes, the England Test captain managed to notch his fastest ODI century off just 76 balls and eventually topped the table for highest individual ODI scores in England men’s cricket, a position previously occupied by teammate Jason Roy when he made 180 against Australia in 2018.
Stokes told reporters after the match: “It’s good to come back after a while away and make a big contribution.
“I think today was good for me personally, just to reacquaint myself with how 50-over cricket works.
“We start and lose a few quick wickets, but then we put them under pressure. I had to check myself a few times when I looked up and there were still 20 overs to go. You have a lot more time than you think .”
Stokes added: “I didn’t know Jason’s record. He said ‘well done’ and I said ‘sorry’ back. We’re not too concerned about things like that.”
England captain Jos Buttler had urged his team to be more aggressive and play positively after his side battled back to level the series at Southampton.
It was a message clearly embodied in the partnership of Stokes and Dawid Malan for the third wicket as the England pair made 199 off 165 deliveries, cementing their places for the World Cup squad in India next month.
“Stokes is a phenomenal cricketer, he really is,” said Aerial sports commentator Nasser Hussain.
“People asked whether he should come back or not, but it was a no-brainer for me.
“Just because he might not be able to bowl, he’s still one of the best batters we’ve produced in any format.”
Hussain added: “That’s what happens when you have a team full of senior leaders, they have a lot of cricketers who have been around before and who, before a World Cup, wouldn’t want to take a step back.
“Stokes didn’t always bat at four and one of the advantages of getting to 13-2 was that he had a lot more time and he judged it perfectly. He has always shown strength, especially on the leg side.
“He was hitting like he always does and I think New Zealand and other teams will have to learn from him.”
Stokes’ dismissal finally came when New Zealand fast bowler Ben Lister bowled a full toss and he was caught at deep by Will Young.
But his efforts were plentiful as the crowd at the Oval rose to their feet and Stokes raised his bat skyward, walking away adorned with adulation despite a late collapse that would see England lose their final six wickets for just 32 runs.
“Stokes took the lead so that others would have the courage to follow and trust in his example,” said Aerial sports commentator Kumar Sangakkara.
“One of his key roles is to inspire and get the message across. He did a fabulous job and England looked a bit behind at the start but then they had someone from their top four to really set the tone.
“England have reaffirmed their position and their belief in how they want to play.”
If Stokes was England’s hero, it was New Zealander Boult who delivered the ball to the tourists.
The left-armer claimed a sixth ODI at five for, also dismissing Malan (96) to deny him a fifth ODI century, and then contributed to England’s collapse by removing Sam Curran (3) and Gus Atkinson (2 ).
“Bolt varied his pace and bowled well,” Hussain said.
“He is an exceptional cricketer and he and Stokes have been out of ODI cricket for some time, but they have come back strongly.”
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England’s fourth ODI against New Zealand is broadcast live on Sky Sports Cricket from 12pm on Thursday (12.30pm first ball).