Any doubts surrounding Ben Stokes’ preparedness for a return to 50-over cricket after a 14-month retirement from ODIs were completely dispelled at the KIA Oval. Stokes not only brushed aside these uncertainties but also performed exceptionally well. He hammered his fourth century in this format, reaching this milestone in just 76 balls. Subsequently, he proceeded to establish a new record for the highest score by an Englishman in ODIs, accumulating a remarkable 182 runs from 124 deliveries, ultimately laying the foundation for a convincing victory over New Zealand.
Stokes stepped onto the field in the third over, with England struggling at 13 for 2 and facing Trent Boult’s swinging new ball. Nevertheless, he formed a crucial partnership with Dawid Malan, which proved to be a game-changing alliance, amassing 199 runs in 165 deliveries. Stokes launched a fierce attack on Lockie Ferguson, plundering 56 runs off the 30 balls he faced from him. In total, Ferguson conceded 80 runs in his nine overs.
Stokes initiated his innings with a barrage of aggressive strokes, charging down the pitch and shifting outside leg stump to create space for shots on the off-side. He had only managed to score 13 runs from 19 balls when Ferguson was introduced into the attack, but Stokes immediately took him on, smashing three boundaries in four balls during Ferguson’s second over. This marked a pivotal moment for Stokes, and from that point onward, he maintained a similar tempo to the one he exhibited during the Ashes earlier in the summer. He combined cautious singles with calculated and dismissive shots that sent the ball soaring into the stands. One particularly memorable shot was a powerful swing off Glenn Phillips, which landed in the second tier of the Pavilion.
Despite grappling with a knee injury, Stokes opted to stand his ground and deliver a power-packed performance, smashing a total of nine sixes, including six in his final 31 balls. Even when he was caught while attempting a tenth six, the capacity crowd rose to their feet to applaud the hero of England’s 2019 World Cup victory, filled with confidence that he could once again inspire them to defend their title successfully in India.
Reflecting on his performance, Stokes commented, “It’s satisfying to make a significant contribution to our victory today after being away for so long. Personally, it was a good day for me, allowing me to reacquaint myself with the dynamics of 50-over cricket. We lost a few early wickets, and I wanted to exert pressure. At times, I had to remind myself that there were still 23-24 overs left, and I had more time than I initially thought.”
New Zealand’s pursuit of the daunting target of 369 runs quickly turned into a mere batting practice session. Chris Woakes, who delivered eight consecutive overs, played a pivotal role in dismantling New Zealand’s batting lineup, finishing with figures of 3 for 31 and effectively ending any hopes of a competitive match. Glenn Phillips, who notched up a career-best 72, was the sole New Zealand batsman to surpass the 30-run mark as the team was bundled out for 187.
While Stokes seized the limelight, the match also provided valuable insights into England’s World Cup squad selection. With Jason Roy sidelined for a third consecutive ODI due to back issues, Dawid Malan capitalized on his opportunity upon returning from paternity leave. His innings of 96 off 95 balls marked his second half-century of the series and his ninth score of 50 or more in ODIs out of 20 innings.
Initially, Malan was considered an extra batsman when England announced their provisional 15-man World Cup squad a month ago. However, he has now presented a compelling case for inclusion, possibly as Jonny Bairstow’s opening partner when England takes on New Zealand in the World Cup’s opening game on October 5 in Ahmedabad. Harry Brook, who was omitted from the initial squad, might also secure a spot due to his versatility, especially given Jason Roy’s inconsistent fitness record.
Following England’s victory at the Ageas Bowl, the team discussed adopting a more aggressive and positive approach, with Jos Buttler and his players aiming to unleash their full potential. Both Malan and Stokes responded to this directive by forming a dynamic partnership of 100 runs in just 15.1 overs. Malan adopted an aggressive approach against the new ball, smashing six boundaries within the first 10 overs.
Malan showcased his proficiency in playing the pull shot, twice dispatching Ben Lister for boundaries through square leg. He accelerated into the 80s by dispatching Kyle Jamieson over long-on with a powerful shot. Although he was dismissed down the leg side by Trent Boult as he approached a century, Malan had provided a strong platform for England, with the score at 212 for 3 after 30.1 overs.
Despite the promising start, England fell just short of reaching the 400-run mark, leaving 11 balls unused as the lower-order struggled. Jos Buttler briefly ignited the innings with his 38 off 24 balls, but Stokes’ dismissal in the 45th over triggered a late collapse, with England losing five wickets for a mere 20 runs. Trent Boult, New Zealand’s standout bowler, completed his sixth five-wicket haul in ODIs by dismissing Gus Atkinson and significantly denting England’s late surge.
New Zealand faced challenges with their bowling attack, with Mitchell Santner nursing a knee injury from the Ageas Bowl match and Ish Sodhi rested. Consequently, they relied on all-rounders Phillips and Rachin Ravindra to deliver spin, while Kyle Jamieson and Ben Lister were not expected to feature in New Zealand’s World Cup campaign unless injuries intervened.
Stokes took full advantage of New Zealand’s weakened bowling attack, amassing 59 runs from the 35 balls of spin he faced, including three colossal sixes that rendered Ravindra ineffective after just two overs. His dismissal by Lister was surprising, but not before he had shattered Jason Roy’s record for the highest individual score by an Englishman in ODIs.
Despite the absence of Adil Rashid and Mark Wood, England’s primary bowlers, the team managed to maintain control in the field. Chris Woakes made crucial breakthroughs, dismissing Will Young and Henry Nicholls, while Sam Curran and Moeen Ali also chipped in with important wickets. Devon Conway struggled to find his rhythm and fell to Reece Topley. New Zealand’s batting order continued to crumble, and they failed to mount a substantial challenge. Phillips attempted a couple of futile sixes as the required run rate skyrocketed. By the time he was declared lbw upon review, becoming the first of Liam Livingstone’s three victims, The Oval had noticeably emptied out.