In an alternate universe, Ben Stokes would have been on the golf course this week. Originally slated to participate in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth as a former member of England’s one-day team, Stokes had other plans after coming out of retirement for one-day cricket. Instead of golfing, he was facing off against New Zealand’s bowling attack, smashing a remarkable 182 runs, setting a new record for the highest score by an England batter in a One Day International (ODI).
“I was a bit disappointed about missing the PGA. I essentially played golf today, so I was alright,” Stokes humorously remarked. He found himself under the stands at The Oval, where just two months prior, he had deftly sidestepped questions from journalists about his post-Ashes plans.
Before the final Test against Australia, Stokes had declared that he wouldn’t be available for the World Cup and would focus on rehabilitating his left knee. It turned out to be a clever deception. Stokes was already in motion for his comeback in the 50-over format, aiming for England’s World Cup defense in India later in the year.
There was no hint of this subterfuge, a testament to Stokes’ poker face honed during high-stakes run chases in the 2019 and 2022 World Cup finals and his legendary Ashes heroics at Headingley. “It was, wasn’t it?” Stokes acknowledged with a grin. “I’d been asked a lot about my knee over a long period of time. I knew that I’d be playing in these games and potentially the World Cup. I said that to put you all off the radar.”
Despite his troublesome knee, England now sees Stokes primarily as a batter rather than an all-action all-rounder. His stunning performance at The Oval affirmed why Captain Jos Buttler wants him in India. With a singular focus on batting and no distractions from bowling, Stokes is potentially even more formidable.
This marked only the 10th occasion in Stokes’ 108-match ODI career that he batted in the number four position. With added responsibility, he delivered the second-highest score by a batter at number four or lower in men’s ODIs, surpassed only by Viv Richards’ legendary 189 not out against England in 1984.
Stokes commented, “It’s the first time I’ve been clear in my mind that is the one thing I can focus on. Over the past 18 months, every day has been: ‘Will I bowl? Will I not bowl?’ I know I can just focus on the batting. That’s my thing for the team now. Having that clarity in my head helps.”
This clarity translated into Stokes’ fastest ODI century, achieved in just 76 balls, and his first since 2017. He struck 15 fours and nine sixes, propelling England to a total of 368 runs and a convincing 181-run victory, giving them a 2-1 series lead.
Coincidentally, this record-breaking performance came against New Zealand, the country of Stokes’ birth and the opponents he famously conquered in the 2019 World Cup final.
Nods to his past heroics appeared, as one ball ricocheted off Stokes, similar to his fortunate boundary during the 2019 World Cup. The cricketing world may be growing tired of facing Stokes, who could have represented New Zealand, but coach Gary Stead graciously admitted that he enjoys watching him bat.
“I’d rather he gets his runs now than on 5 October,” said Stead, referring to the World Cup opener between the two sides in Ahmedabad next month.
While Stokes acknowledges the challenge of returning to the format after a long hiatus, he expressed satisfaction with his performance, saying, “It’s just familiarizing myself again with the ebbs and flows of 50-over cricket, and it’s something I think I did quite well today.”
Stokes may have made himself available for one-day internationals, but he proved his return with a truly ‘Stokesian’ performance. With Ben Stokes back in action, England once again becomes a contender where anything is possible in the World Cup.