Ben Stokes admits all the emotions of five long months away from the England team caught up with him as he walked off unbeaten after his match-winning half-century against New Zealand.
Stokes, absent since last September after being arrested outside a Bristol nightclub and subsequently charged with affray, missed England’s entire winter – including their 4-0 Ashes defeat – until he returned against the Kiwis in the opening one-day international series match in Hamilton.
Even walking on the field the first time and (then) walking off tonight made me understand how much of a privilege it is to represent your country.Ben Stokes
He was unable to help Eoin Morgan’s team to victory then but did so at Mount Maunganui with two run-outs and two wickets as well as a top score of 63 not out to level the series at 1-1.
“I was quite emotional walking off there at the end,” said the 26-year-old, having hit seven fours and a six from 74 balls.
“There was relief, happiness – and obviously it’s been a long time. It was very satisfying for me.”
England declared Stokes available once more only after he pleaded not guilty at Bristol Magistrates Court earlier this month.
Within two days, he had joined them on tour in his native New Zealand but sat out the Twenty20 tri-series and returned only for the first ODI.
“Even walking on the field the first time and (then) walking off tonight made me understand how much of a privilege it is to represent your country,” he added.
“It was a different feeling to what it is normally – but it was a great feeling to be walking off there at the end not out, especially after a really commanding performance from the team.”
Stokes spent much of his international exile at home, save for a short spell of white-ball cricket with Canterbury Kings in Christchurch.
He said: “It was obviously frustrating to watch the Ashes. I went through all the emotions as I would have done playing, but there’s not a lot I can change about that now.
“I’ve been following all the cricket that all the lads have been playing but what I have to do now is focus on going forward.
Asked whether he always believed he would play for England at some stage this winter, Stokes said: “That was the focus and when that opportunity came back round again I wasn’t prepared to let anybody down. All the training and hard work that went into that time spent at home really paid off.
“When I got the nod I wanted to expect to be asked to participate fully rather than be eased back into the team.
“I wouldn’t expect anything less of myself and I don’t think (captain Eoin) Morgan would expect anything less of me either.”
It is only a start but Stokes has big plans for the summer ahead and beyond. “I hope now this is a stepping stone on the road to trying to keep on helping England win games,” he said.
“We’ve got a massive summer ahead and the World Cup coming up after that as well, so I hope this is just the start of it.
“I will constantly be saying it’s what’s coming up now going forward. As a cricketer, especially as an England cricketer, we’ve got so much cricket to play and there’s lots to look forward to and concentrate on.
“I want to contribute every time I play for England and, as I said, we’ve got a massive summer coming up and loads of cricket to play in the future. I just want to contribute towards that.”
He did that to great effect on this occasion, sharing a stand of 88 with Morgan (62) as England chased an inadequate 223 all out with six wickets and more than 12 overs to spare.
Stokes admitted, however: “I think the bowling has felt the hardest to get back to where I want it to be.
“I’m working really hard to get it back to where I want it to be. It’s nice to be contributing wickets but I don’t think I’m quite at the level I want to be at yet.
“There’s nothing like match overs. You try to replicate everything in training but it’s that extra adrenalin you get playing and that extra intensity that does have an effect on the body when you haven’t had it for a while.”
Tim Southee, leading New Zealand in the absence of injured captain Kane Williamson, said: “He’s obviously a class player,” he said. “We know how dangerous he can be – both with bat and ball.”
Chris Waters comment: Page 19