Sunday, June 16, 2024

Ben Stokes: England captain returns with pleasingly solid showing

Must read

Numbers alone have never told the full story when it comes to Ben Stokes.

A quick glance at his Test averages would not immediately indicate that he is the cricketing superstar we know him to be.

With Stokes, you have to look beyond the raw statistics to find what makes him truly special.

That ability to rise to the occasion and morph into whatever his side needs him to be, often when a situation is at its most desperate.

Day one of the County Championship match between Lancashire and Durham in Blackpool was not one of those occasions.

It didn’t need to be.

There was no call for a Stokes special in the England Test captain’s first appearance for two months.

The all-rounder ended the day with figures of 2-70 from 17 overs.

All very routine. And that will suit England just fine.

A knee injury has severely limited Stokes’ ability to bowl over the last few years so to see him run in unencumbered in his fourth spell of the day would have delighted Brendon McCullum.

This was the hope when Stokes had knee surgery over the winter. He recovered in time to play all five Tests on England’s tour of India, but bowled only five overs across the whole series, all in the final Test.

He has opted to miss the T20 World Cup in the West Indies and USA next month to focus on regaining his fitness and ensuring he can become a reliable bowling option for the Test team again.

With Stuart Broad retired and James Anderson set to follow after the first Test of the summer, England will need Stokes.

Once the final tributes have been paid, the last guard of honour dispersed and Anderson turns from feared opening bowler to a void that needs filling, England’s leading wicket-taker on active duty will be Stokes.

The skipper may not have to lead the attack in the same way but the knowledge he has gained over the years will be invaluable given the relative inexperience of the seam attacks England are likely to put out this summer.

Of course, some of that can be passed on verbally but England still want a man who has been there, done it, and is able to lead by example.

This was Stokes’ next step towards that. Understandably, there was some rustiness early on and signs of tiredness later in the day.

But his pace was good and once a cool morning gave way to a bright, sunny afternoon, he shaped the ball nicely away from the Lancashire right-handers.

It was during a six-over stint after lunch that Stokes looked most dangerous, especially after claiming his first wicket of the summer with an innocuous short ball.

Bowling in tandem with Matthew Potts, who took 2-94 and did his England chances no harm with a couple of very lively spells during the day, Stokes helped change the momentum after Lancashire’s strong start.

There was a brief flash of anger in the evening session after a couple of poor balls but, despite a little weariness, Stokes came back to fizz a couple of sharp deliveries past the bat before taking his second wicket with another banged-in delivery.

Stokes was withdrawn from the attack once the second new ball became available but even with his bowling efforts concluded, his fitness was put to the test as Saqib Mahmood – another of those perhaps hoping to catch the England skipper’s eye – kept the Durham fielders busy with some late hitting.

It remains to be seen how Stokes’ body – that left knee, in particular – holds up over four or five days but the early signs are good for England.

During his last red-ball stint with Durham, he scored a blistering 161 off just 88 balls against Worcestershire as he went about showing how he wanted England to play under his leadership.

Two years on, with two legendary bowlers gone or going, they need an experienced bowler capable of putting in the hard yards – if they happen to come in the form of genuine all-rounder to help balance the side, all the better.

There are plenty of hurdles still overcome but, once again, Stokes looks ready to intent on turning himself into exactly what England need.

Latest article