Re­formed char­ac­ter seizes his new chance

Bris­tol mo­ment is line in the sand as Stokes earns his re­demp­tion, says Nick Hoult at the Oval

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Cricket World Cup 2019 -

The Eng­land team have talked for some time about the new Ben Stokes and, af­ter this per­for­mance, the rest of the coun­try can be in no doubt that he is de­ter­mined to forge a new rep­u­ta­tion by seiz­ing this World Cup.

The ad­mi­ra­tion for Stokes within the dress­ing room is one thing, but the pub­lic per­cep­tion has largely been shaped by the events of a night out in Bris­tol that went badly wrong and ended up in a court case. Ever since he was cleared of af­fray in Au­gust last year he has been de­ter­mined to make it up to his fel­low play­ers by train­ing harder than any­one else, leav­ing them in awe of his work ethic.

It has not quite trans­ferred out on the pitch, and this was the first real barn­storm­ing per­for­mance of the sec­ond chap­ter of his ca­reer. But great all-rounders pro­duce on

the grand­est stages and this was one of those per­for­mances.

A re­spon­si­ble in­nings of 89, two wick­ets and a bril­liant, out­ra­geous catch in the out­field were just what Eng­land needed af­ter promis­ing to de­liver so much in this tour­na­ment pre­vi­ously.

“That feel­ing for about five sec­onds when I was fac­ing the crowd and ev­ery­one was cheer­ing, it was phe­nom­e­nal,” said Stokes about his catch. “I had a panic on for the catch, I was fur­ther in than I should have been. Luck­ily it stuck, I didn’t know how to re­act as it was a reg­u­la­tion catch if I was in the right po­si­tion.”

Last week Stokes’s spon­sor, Red Bull, re­leased an ad­vert of him har­ing around a ware­house, rac­ing against a bleep­ing alarm. It was a Stokes net ses­sion on time-lapse.

But this man-of-the-match per­for­mance was sea­soned ma­tu­rity rather than su­per­hu­man strik­ing. He played within him­self to lead his side to a win­ning total by gaug­ing the pitch and stay­ing in, mak­ing 89 off 79 balls, his high­est score since his ar­rest in Bris­tol. That mo­ment has been a line in the sand. There was Stokes be­fore Bris­tol, and Stokes af­ter. But for a fuller pic­ture of how he learnt to be more ma­ture you have to go back just slightly fur­ther to the Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy a few months be­fore his ar­rest.

The semi-fi­nal of the tour­na­ment in Cardiff in June 2017 was played on a sim­i­larly tricky sur­face to this one at the Oval, un­suited to Eng­land’s style of bat­ting. It was an oc­ca­sion, like yes­ter­day, when they were ex­pected to de­liver in style.

In­stead, they laboured and no­body em­bod­ied that struggle more than Stokes as he limped his way to 34, eat­ing up 64 de­liv­er­ies and fail­ing to hit a bound­ary as Eng­land lost by eight wick­ets.

The same sce­nario was build­ing at the Oval. At 247 for five when Jos But­tler dragged on, Eng­land were threat­en­ing to fall short of set­ting a de­mand­ing tar­get for South Africa. But Stokes re­mained calm, and guided Eng­land to 300, re­fus­ing to lose his pa­tience as they ground out 29 balls with­out a bound­ary be­tween overs 41 to 45. Be­fore his ar­rest Stokes made fewer runs, but at a quicker strike rate. Since then he has played like a proper bats­man, av­er­ag­ing 55 at a strike rate of 85.66. There is no point go­ing down in a blaze of glory. Glory only comes when you win.

“The mes­sages from the bats­men early on was that it was tricky and try to get to 300. They were hard to get away, bound­aries were hard to come by, but we did well to get 300-plus,” Stokes said.

Just think, Eng­land did not pick Stokes for the pre­vi­ous World Cup af­ter the man­age­ment de­cided to drop him fol­low­ing a poor series in Sri Lanka. Such short-sight­ed­ness is a thing of the past.

“His all-round game was on and that is great for us. It shows he is right on top of his game,” said Eoin Mor­gan, the Eng­land cap­tain.

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