Stokes spared final over exam but he earns redemption
John Stern discovers that the England allrounder is still looking for improvements despite his success in Kolkata
Ben Stokes had retained his sense of humour.“I put it down to good captaincy from Morgy – to get my overs out of the way first,” he joked with Star TV’s Ravi Shastri immediately after this pulsating five-run win for England.
This was a redemption tale for Stokes, back at Eden Gardens for the first time since Carlos Brathwaite made his bowling disappear into the black sky of Kolkata in the final over of the World T20 final in April last year.
The Durham all-rounder did not want reminding of the symbolism of his return and his subsequent man-of-the-match performance but he understood it nonetheless. “It was a difficult time last year,” he said. “There’s been a bit of banter flying around. It was nice to come back and get rid of some of the memories.”
It was probably a good thing he did not bowl the last over given the way that Kedar Jadhav, a real find for India in this series, treated the first two balls from Chris Woakes, the man given that crucial ‘death over’ responsibility.
Stokes was brutally honest afterwards. While the likes of Eoin Morgan and Virat Kohli queued up to sing his praises, Stokes admitted: “It’s nice to perform decently out here in Indian conditions but there are still improvements I would like to make.
“I’m still very expensive. Working on consistency. Any sight of a bad ball, the world’s top players will punish you.”
He is not alone. While England’s batsmen are the fastest scorers in the world in the 50-over game since the start of 2016 (6.32 runs per over), their bowlers are the most expensive (conceding 5.86 runs per over) of all the major nations with only Ireland a touch more expensive.
England coach Trevor Bayliss remains concerned about the inconsistency of his bowlers.
“Our bowling in all three games was a little bit disappointing,” he said. “If we’d got the ball in the right areas more often, the results could have been different. But that’s what happens when you’re under pressure from a very good team.”
With the ICC Champions Trophy still five months away, Bayliss was not ruling out recalls for Stuart Broad, Steven Finn or Mark Wood, if the latter recovers from injury in time.
In his 50th ODI for England, Stokes showed again what a game-changer he is, with bat and ball. He got rid of Kohli, who took his all-format winter tally against England to 840 runs, with a bit of extra pace and width. The Indian captain’s flashing drive was nicked behind to Jos Buttler.
He also ended the partnership that threatened to win the game for India. Jardhav and Hardik Pandya had put on 104 in 83 balls for the sixth wicket before Stokes blasted a full-length ball through Pandya’s defence and sent him on his way for 56.
Earlier, England’s innings followed a similar pattern to the first two matches of the series in that it needed a lateorder turbo-charge to push the score on past the magic 300 mark.
Stokes provided precisely that with 57 from 39 balls, including a couple of straight sixes off Ravi Ashwin – the first ball he faced from the spinner – and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. It was the sixth time he had passed 50 in his last eight one-day innings for England.
“He has more in the tank,” said Morgan afterwards. “He’s an incredible player – a luxury – to have in your team. He gives you everything he has every time he plays and we don’t take that for granted.”
Kohli added: “I felt bad for him in the final, I saw the sadness on his face. He takes a lot of pride in his cricket and is very proud to play for England.
“He has great character and every side is pleased to have cricketers like that. I’m sure it feels nice to have turned the tables on this ground.”
Game-changer: Ben Stokes bowling at Eden Gardens