Ben Stokes ODI return a big boost for England's World Cup defence | Crickit

Ben Stokes ODI return a big boost for England's World Cup defence

By, Mumbai
Aug 16, 2023 08:10 PM IST

The inspirational Test skipper's decision to reverse his ODI retirement will boost England's batting firepower in India

For English cricket fans, the 2019 ODI World Cup would probably be their most cherished moment in the sport. It was the first time England won a tournament that made its debut in the country in 1975. At the centre of that great campaign was the inspirational Ben Stokes.

England all-rounder Ben Stokes(AFP/File Photo)
England all-rounder Ben Stokes(AFP/File Photo)

The all-rounder carried England to a thrilling victory over New Zealand at Lord's, winning the Player-of-the-Match in the final and establishing himself as one of the greats of the game.

Four years on, England, who are also the T20 World Cup holders, could not have asked for a bigger boost as they prepare to defend the ODI title in India. With less than two months to go for the start of the marquee event, Stokes, having led the Test team to a sensational Ashes comeback, has decided to comeback from ODI retirement, having quit the 50-over format in July last year to manage his workload, especially due to a troublesome knee.

The decision of Stokes to return was confirmed after he was picked for the upcoming four-match ODI series against New Zealand in the build-up to the World Cup.

Stokes, 32, while deciding to continue playing Tests and T20Is, had said last year that it was “unsustainable” for him to play all three formats. On Wednesday, England men’s national selector Luke Wright said that he was always eager to give the ODI World Cup another go.

"It wasn't really a case of changing his mind," Wright was quoted as saying by ESPNcricinfo. "He was always interested in coming back. It wasn't a case of needing to beg him or anything like that. Once his body was in a good place and he'd had a rest, he was really keen to play.”

Just how involved Stokes can be as an all-rounder remains to be seen. His knee issue prevented him from bowling in the last three Tests as England rallied from 0-2 to draw the thrilling series. Wright said Stokes is likely to be used only as a batter.

“He's coming to the World Cup and we're going to pick him as a batter,” said Wright. “We’re always assessing that as it goes, but we won't be pushing him to bowl unless he's absolutely fit and raring to go. There's still going to be a period for him to try and get this knee right but it's obviously not an easy one.”

Even so, Stokes’ importance as a batter can't be overstated. In the 2019 World Cup final, the left-hander was the top-scorer with a 98-ball 84, and went on to play a key role in the Super Over. In last year’s T20 World Cup final against Pakistan too, he hit a half-century in England's five-wicket win.

Stokes could not have timed his return better. At the moment, there’s a need for stability in England’s ODI middle-order. Joe Root’s skills with the bat can always be counted on, especially on India’s spin-friendly tracks, but he hasn’t played a white-ball game for over a year. Jonny Bairstow too is set to make a comeback in limited-overs cricket after 12 months. With the Jason Roy and Liam Livingstone in the mix, the Jos Buttler-led side doesn’t lack firepower, but Stokes’ maturity and experience would be hugely welcome.

In India, Stokes has a promising record with the bat in the 50-over format. He has played six matches and scored 255 runs with three fifties, at a strike-rate of 138.58. The last ODI he played in India though was in March 2021. Overall, in the subcontinent he has scored 542 runs in 17 ODIs at an average of 49.27 and strike-rate of 113.86.

More than the statistics, it is Stokes’ powerful personality that will fill England fans with hope. Be it the two World Cups where he played a starring role or his transforming the Test team into a force, Stokes knows how to step up and deliver clutch performances.

The ODI World Cup is still arguably the biggest prize in the game and England's chances of making it back-to-back titles have undoubtedly been boosted by the return of their biggest match-winner.

"If ever there's someone for the big moments, it's Ben Stokes,” said Wright. “I think that's what it is – it's probably for him thinking it's a last chance in the 50 overs to go and win it again. Who better for England to have someone like him come back for us? We're all just so happy he's back in the squad.”

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