Ben Stokes left Birmingham with praise from both captains. Opposition skipper Steve Smith applauded the England all-rounder for his game and the home captain Eoin Morgan could not have been happier to have such a player in the side. Actually, any captain would be dying to have a player a like Stokes in his side. He is one of the few three-in-one players. He can bat in any situation, can give his captain the breakthrough when needed and is an exceptional fielder.
England needed him badly for the Champions Trophy. He came into the tournament after a hundred against South Africa in the second ODI but his sore knee became the talking point. England rested him for the dead rubber and allowed the all-rounder to attain full fitness before the tournament opener.
The all-rounder did not get to bat in the first game against Bangladesh and was slowly finding his touch against New Zealand before he was dismissed for 48 off 53 balls. Stokes was due and England couldn’t have asked for a better game for that to happen.
England were three down for 35 chasing a target of 278 against Australia. In came Stokes. One would expect him to unleash the lusty blows right from the start but it was not the case against Australia. He saw off Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc as they were steaming in. He targetted the extra pace of Pat Cumming, taking him for 43 off 28 balls.
Stokes’s second ODI hundred was one of the most fluent innings from him, picking the short-pitched deliveries early and sending them over mid-wicket with ease. His off-side game was even stronger. A look at his wagon-wheel shows how he scored all-round the park. It was no one-dimensional innings.
Australia were left without option as Stokes took England way ahead of the par score when rain arrived. Stokes dumped Australia out of the Champions Trophy and kept England on the track of the title which they could not win after losing to India in the final in 2013.
England will hope Stokes the bowler could be more effective. Currently, he is just at par. Stokes can be a partnership breaker and contain the flow of runs at the same time. But he hasn’t been able to produce the goods with the ball so far in the competition. Trying something new with each delivery hasn’t helped the seamer and he has lacked control over line and length.
Stokes remains key for England but the Three Lions need to be careful against the unpredictable Pakistan unit. Last time the two teams met in Cardiff, Pakistan chased down England’s 300-plus total. Stokes was effective with the bat, but didn’t make major contributions with the ball. This time, however, he would like to pen a different script.