en Stokes’ decision to return to England’s 50-over squad was made with one goal in mind, one that cannot be achieved until the World Cup final in Ahmedabad on November 19.
But if the man whose name now appears in English cricket history books almost as regularly as the words “bat” and “ball” were to insist on writing another entry in the meantime, then who are we to argue ?
Here at the Oval, Stokes produced a superb innings of 182 off just 124 balls, not only his highest ODI score but the highest ever by an Englishman as Jos Buttler’s side hammered New Zealand by 181 points to take a 2-1 series lead.
Set a hard-hitting target of 369, three early wickets from Chris Woakes in a superb new ball spell ensured the tourists would never be seriously involved in the contest, Glenn Phillips’ 72 only delayed the inevitable as England, for the first time in a brief ODI summer, produced the kind of performance that will put countries like India and Australia on notice three weeks before the start of the World Cup.
Stokes took the field with England in a Trent Boult-inspired clash for the second match in a row, with the seamer dismissing Jonny Bairstow’s first ball and then Joe Root in his second to leave the hosts 13 for two. Where England had allowed the rot to set in deeper at Southampton on Sunday, ultimately saved by Liam Livingstone and the lower order, here they took no steps back, Stokes and Dawid Malan compiling a masterful partnership of 199 before the opening game fell short by four points. what would have been a fifth ODI century.
Although it was the third of five victims for the exceptional Boult, it was a great day for Malan, under pressure for his World Cup place heading into this four-match series but, with only Friday’s final at Lord’s to come, now surely secure.
The 36-year-old had made a half-century in the series opener in Cardiff last week and after skipping the trip to Southampton to attend the birth of his second child, he immediately returned here to enjoy of Jason Roy’s continued absence, the A Surrey man suffered another back spasm this morning and now has no time to prove his fitness before the plane takes off for India. To add insult to a nagging injury, it was Roy’s innings record of 180 against Australia in 2018 that was toppled by Stokes.
By the time of Malan’s dismissal, a good New Zealand review detecting a feather on the leg side, Stokes had already notched his fastest ODI hundred, accelerating from 13 off 19 at the end of the powerplay to reach three figures just 57 balls later. Oddly enough, the all-rounder had failed to get going after each of his previous three ODI tons, never getting past 102, but six years after the most recent of them, and with trouble-free time, he was not in a wasteful mood.
Joined by Buttler, whose appearance of 38 from 24 seemed a good result for New Zealand in the circumstances, the attack continued, with the touring bowlers reluctantly queuing to take their medicines while all front-row options Boult was traveling for more than one race. -ball.
As always with Stokes, the whole spectacle was charged with a sense of danger now inherent in watching England’s most decisive player hobble on one leg, running all but the most urgent of the two via a turning circle of a cruise ship to avoid unnecessary strain on this chronically. injured knee. Fortunately, there was plenty of ground saved by the nine maximums among his 24 boundaries, with the ball hitting so brutally that those with the privilege of front row seats were also just about the safest on the field.
It was with the last of these that Stokes became record-breaking once more, moving on to his final score by bowling Ben Lister over his head before falling on his sword to the same bowler shortly after , caught in the deep end trying to accelerate towards his country’s first one-day double-hundred.
Certainly, England could have been a little more ruthless in burying New Zealand from that point on, with Stokes’ dismissal sparking a collapse that saw the last five wickets fall for just 20 runs while a score above 400 seemed well within reach. Yet even with 11 deliveries left unused, a total of 368 was England’s highest ODI score against a Test nation since the World Cup four years ago.
For those hoping to dethrone the champions this fall, this must make for worrying reading.