Ben Stokes felt “emotional” as he walked off the Bay Oval in Mount Maunganui with an unbeaten 63 to his name, which helped steer England to a series-levelling victory, having been determined not to let his team-mates down on his return.
Five months ago he walked off the County Ground at Bristol with a half-century and England later won that match against West Indies. Subsequent events meant that would be his last international until three days ago in Hamilton, when for a short while it appeared he would play a role in victory with the ball, but this time he made an impact in all three departments.
In that time the Ashes passed him by and there has been a court appearance with a not-guilty plea for affray. The final situation will play out in the courts starting next month – the debate about whether he should be on this tour at all will continue – but for now Stokes is eager to make the most of being back.
“It was a great feeling to be walking off the field there at the end not out, especially after a really commanding performance from the team. I was quite emotional walking off there at the end,” Stokes said. “Even walking on the field the first time and walking off tonight made me understand how much a privilege it is to represent your country. It was a different feeling to what it is normally but it was a great feeling to be walking off there.
“There was relief, happiness and obviously it’s been a long time. Hopefully now this is a stepping stone on the road to trying to keep on helping England win games. We’ve got a massive summer ahead and the World Cup coming up after that as well so hopefully this is just the start of it.”
There was understandable rustiness in his 12 at Seddon Park – nets can only do so much – although the ball came out nicely from his first over. In Mount Maunganui he was rarely far from the action, showing the knack of picking up wickets with poor deliveries when Henry Nicholls cracked a cut to point, and twice being alert to pull off run outs.
With the bat he had a scare before he had scored, calling Eoin Morgan through for a dicey run, but then started to find his range – a lofted straight drive off Trent Boult and a brace of thunderous pulls being the highlights.
“I’ve been working hard at home making sure that when the opportunity came again to represent England I wasn’t going to let anyone down,” he said. “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 Morgy [Eoin Morgan] would expect anything less of me either.”
Stokes touched on the angst he felt at having missed such a marquee series for an England player as the Ashes, but was already casting his eye forward to England’s home season of cricket.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Although Stokes had been training extensively during his long lay-off – either side of his short spell with Canterbury before Christmas – there was a degree of uncertainty about how he would respond to the intensity of international cricket. He felt the bowling was the tougher of his two disciplines to regain the rhythm in and Morgan has not used him for his full 10 overs in the first two matches.
“It’s nice to be contributing wickets, two in the first game and two here, but I don’t think I’m quite at the level I want to be yet,” he said. “The day after the first game I was a little bit sore and to be honest I was really stiff coming back for my second spell. There’s nothing like match overs. You try to replicate everything you can in training but it’s that extra adrenalin you get playing and that extra intensity does have an effect on the body when you haven’t had it for a while. The body’s feeling a lot better than it did after the first game.”