If there were any doubts about his readiness to play 50-over cricket after 14 months in ODI retirement, Ben Stokes laughed them off at the KIa Oval. He belted his fourth century in the format off 76 balls, then pushed on to claim the highest score in the format by an Englishman with 182 off 124 to set up a crushing victory over New Zealand.
Stokes walked out in the third over with Trent Boult swinging the new ball and England in trouble at 13 for 2, but shared a third-wicket stand worth 199 in 165 balls with Dawid Malan. He launched a brutal assault on Lockie Ferguson, looting 56 runs off the 30 balls he faced from him; all told, Ferguson’s nine overs cost 80.
Stokes started frantically, charging down the pitch and skipping outside leg stump to give himself room to play over the off side. He had 13 off 19 when Ferguson came into the attack and immediately looked to take him on, hitting three boundaries in four balls – one via a thick leading edge – in Ferguson’s second over.
That was enough to get Stokes going, and thereafter he played at a similar tempo to the one he adopted during the Ashes earlier this summer: prodded and scuffed singles interspersed with calculated, dismissive swipes into the stands. The pick of the bunch, a skip-down-and-swing off Glenn Phillips, was caught in the second tier of the Pavilion.
As he battled his knee injury, Stokes opted to stand and deliver. He crunched nine sixes, including six in his final 31 balls. When he holed out to square leg, attempting to hit a tenth, the sell-out crowd stood to applaud the hero of England’s 2019 World Cup triumph, no doubt imbued with the belief that he could yet inspire them to a successful defence of their title in India.
“It’s good to come back in after a while out and put a big contribution into us winning the game,” Stokes said. “Today was good for me personally, just to get familiarity again with how 50-over cricket goes. We lost a few quick wickets and I wanted to go out and put them under a bit of pressure. There were a couple of times I had to check myself because I looked up and there were still 23-24 overs left… you have way more time than you think.
“I didn’t really know [about the record] until the bloke on the tannoy announced it – then I got out next ball,” he said. “There were a couple of stages where I was scoring quite freely and felt like I wanted to keep going and going and going… in 50-over cricket, we always want to go out and put on big scores but [it was a case of] realising how much more time I had.”
Stokes spent the start of New Zealand’s innings off the field, though insisted his knee is “getting better and better”. He said: “I just needed a little bit of treatment. Test matches are longer, but you get a break; one-day games, you don’t get that. It’s just different, but these first three games have been good.”
New Zealand’s nominal attempt to chase 369 quickly turned into glorified middle practice. Chris Woakes bowled eight overs on the reel from the Pavilion End, finishing his opening spell with 3 for 31 and ending the game as a contest; Phillips, who made a career-best 72, was the only batter to reach 30 as New Zealand folded for 187.