THERE has been plenty of talk about whether Ben Stokes should be back playing for England again given that the Bristol business is still hanging over him.
There has been plenty of talk about whether he should have gone straight back into the side given that he had not played an international match for five months and might have been rusty.
There has been plenty of talk about Ben Stokes full stop since that fateful day in late September when he was arrested and subsequently charged with affray.
But when the talking stops and the action starts, there are few more eloquent cricketers in the world.
After an unspectacular return to England colours in the first one-day international against New Zealand on Sunday, when the tourists were beaten by three wickets in Hamilton and he contributed 12 with the bat and took two wickets, Stokes played a match-winning hand in the second game yesterday in Mount Maunganui.
He captured two more wickets to go with two run-outs as New Zealand were dismissed for 223, and then he top-scored with 63 not out as England won by six wickets with a whopping 73 balls to spare.
Although it was one of those games in which most players contributed, with England impressive in all departments, Stokes stood out like a blackboard in a snowstorm.
As the old country shivered in the grip of the ‘Beast from the East’, a meteorological event that sounds like some particularly hairy darts player from Essex, Stokes warmed the cockles with a crackerjack display, the first down-payment to those team-mates who so sorely missed him during the Ashes.
Like all the great players, Stokes does not need endless training sessions and games to reach top standard.
As former England batsman Rob Key put it in the television studio, marvelling at the fluency with which Stokes helped England level the five-match series, “he’s the type of player who can just pick up a bat out the wrapper and play pretty well”.
But when the talking stops and the action starts, there are few more eloquent cricketers in the world.Chris Waters
Stokes appears to have so much time at the crease that he could probably multi-task as the ball comes out of the bowler’s hand, pausing briefly to negotiate a couple of clues in The Yorkshire Post crossword, for example, before tucking the paper neatly back inside his shirt and nonchalantly smiting the ball over the boundary for six.
His technique is so simple that it basically comes down to this – keep perfectly still until the very last minute, see the ball, hit the ball.
Although many are uneasy about the England and Wales Cricket Board’s handling of his situation, given that Stokes was suspended from playing for England before he had been charged by police and then cleared to play once a charge had been laid, no-one would deny that he is the heartbeat of the side.
It is for that reason that people have bent over backwards to reach the current state of affairs, so much so that several ECB officials could probably do a passable impression of Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Stokes has not lacked support from the ECB, who were placed in an invidious position, whatever one’s opinion. His performance yesterday was a classic example of why they were so keen to welcome back what Key also termed “a once-in-a-generation cricketer”.
With or without Stokes, England are potential World Cup winners, because they are so strong and solid in the 50-over game.
This victory could be filed under the category marked “ruthless”, with England’s foot welded to the jugular.
Yorkshire’s David Willey set the tone with the new ball, along with Chris Woakes, while the fielding was light years from the fumbling efforts visible in Hamilton.
Athletic run-outs, spectacular catches, brilliant ground-work – all were in evidence this time, and it was arguably the decisive factor.
The spinners bowled well in the form of Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali, while there were welcome runs for captain Eoin Morgan.
After Jonny Bairstow’s quickfire 37, Morgan struck 62 from 63 balls – his first half-century in 11 ODI innings going back to last June – before Jos Buttler helped Stokes apply the finishing touches.
Now the roadshow rolls on to Wellington, where the third ODI starts at 1.00am on Saturday.
After that, it moves on to Dunedin and Christchurch, with a Stokes-rejuvenated England looking a good bet to follow their 4-1 ODI victory in Australia with another series win.