With Ben Stokes set to return for England in the ODI series in New Zealand, we look at some of his best international and IPL performances
‘Get him in’ appears to be the consensus among the Sky Cricket experts regarding Ben Stokes and England’s ODI team, the headline-making all-rounder having re-joined his international colleagues for the first time since September ahead of the 50-over series with New Zealand.
“I can’t see the point of going through all the hassle and the criticism of getting him out here when some have felt, ‘no, don’t!’ and then asking him to carry the drinks,” said Nasser Hussain, after Stokes arrived in New Zealand having pleaded not guilty to affray at Bristol Magistrates’ Court.
“He’s too good a player for that. If he’s out here and he’s fit, he should play. Ben Stokes gets into any of your sides as long as he is there and available.”
“On his day he is the best all-rounder in the world – there is no doubt about that, so I hope he plays. Get your best player in and as soon as possible,” Dominic Cork added of Stokes, who last played for England in the third one-day international against Windies in Bristol in September.
The game before the night after as it quickly became, with that incident outside the Mbargo nightclub leading to Stokes being suspended and turning England’s winter upside down, Joe Root losing his vice-captain and most dynamic player for an ultimately unsuccessful Ashes defence.
England coach Trevor Bayliss has been rather more guarded over whether Stokes – who has figured in just six limited-overs games for Canterbury Kings since that ODI at The Brightside Ground five months ago – will return in the first of five matches against the Black Caps, at Seddon Park on Sunday, live on Sky Sports, with the Australian even suggesting he won’t.
“I think [the first ODI] might be a bit early for him – and as we won our last series 4-1 [against Australia] there might not be a spot for him!” Bayliss said last Sunday. “It will take a while for him to get up to speed and we will have to make a decision [based on] nets.”
New Zealand vs England
February 25, 2018, 12:30am
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Bayliss could be bluffing, of course, but if Hamilton does come in too much of a hurry for Stokes, it would be foolish to think he won’t make a comeback at some point in the series, which also features matches in Mount Maunganui, Wellington, Dunedin and Christchurch, the city of his birth.
While the public and the media wait anxiously for Stokes to don his England kit once again, a few members of the England XI will be waiting anxiously to see if they are one to make way, with Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow and Alex Hales the players seemingly most in peril.
Roy, Bairstow and Hales comprised the tourists’ top three during their 4-1 shellacking of Australia in January, with Roy making the biggest impact of the trio, smearing an England ODI-record 180 from 151 balls in the opening fixture at the MCG, topping the 171 Hales had muscled against Pakistan at Trent Bridge in 2016 during the side’s world-record score of 444-3.
Roy’s form has deserted him since that monstrous knock, though – the opener reaching double figures just three times in eight innings across subsequent ODIs and Twenty20 internationals with a top score of 49 against Australia in a 50-over clash in Perth.
Hales, meanwhile, hasn’t exactly been electric this winter, with just one fifty against fully-fledged international opposition, though he has got the team off to some rumbustious starts. All the same, as a white-ball specialist, he’d have been hoping for more substantial contributions.
Bairstow has neither strengthened nor weakened his claims to stay in the side over the last few weeks, having been rested for the T20 Tri-Series, alongside Root, Chris Woakes, and Moeen Ali, but Cork feels the Yorkshireman should slip out to accommodate Stokes.
Dominic Cork reveals his preferred England line-up for Sunday's opening one-day international against New Zealand, saying he would drop Jonny Bairstow
“[Roy] is explosive and can take the game away from you with big hundreds,” Cork told Sky Sports News. “Hales does exactly the same at the other end. Bairstow opened in Australia but I think these two will open in New Zealand because they can win the game on their own.”
The other question regarding Stokes is where he bats? Since England’s dismal 2015 World Cup – from which the Durham star was surprisingly omitted – he has predominantly figured at No 5, only dropping down occasionally when England have decided to promote the ultra-inventive Jos Buttler from the No 6 berth and capitalise further on a rollicking start.
Five is where Stokes has scored each of his three ODI centuries – in Bangladesh in late 2016 and against South Africa and Australia at home last summer – and where he marshaled England’s innings in his last ODI with 73 from 63 balls, before Moeen Ali (102 from 57 deliveries) went berserk.
The logical move would be to push Root back up to No 3, captain Eoin Morgan to No 4 and complete the puzzle with Stokes in his customary position, though Root’s excellence at four in Australia could cause a rethink.
England’s Test captain seemed to relish coming in after three heavy hitters – proving a fine foil to Roy during a stand of 221 at the MCG; anchoring salvos with the more aggressive Buttler and Chris Woakes in a victory in Brisbane; and then top scoring with 62 in Perth.
It seems bizarre to argue for Root to bat four when we spend most Test-match periods hearing the reasons he should bat at three, plus the 27-year-old’s ODI average coming in at first drop (58.52) outguns his numbers playing at four (43.79), but it’s just a thought.
Stokes will significantly boost England’s bowing ranks, too, handing them a seventh bowling option if you include Root’s off-spin. And you should include Root’s off-spin, with his 2-31 in the second ODI against Australia – Steve Smith one of his victims – derailing the hosts’ positive opening and helping set up a win for the visitors.
With Stokes, Woakes, and probably Mark Wood and Tom Curran in the pace department, and Root, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid providing the twirl, Morgan will have a myriad options, something he most definitely did not during in England’s T20 Tri-Series struggles.
Add seam bowling to his batting, his energy and his fielding ability – either up close at slip or saving boundaries in the deep – and Stokes will return, a scary thought for New Zealand with the tourists losing only one of their seven ODIs in his absence and only three of their last 22 in total.
Watch England’s ODI series against New Zealand live on Sky Sports Cricket, starting with the opener in Hamilton from 12.30am on Sunday