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Ben Stokes’ Record-Breaking Innings Reaffirms England’s World Cup Potential

In an alternate scenario, Ben Stokes would have been on the golf course this week. Originally not part of England’s one-day team, Stokes had plans to participate in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, set to commence on Thursday. However, following his return to one-day cricket, Stokes found himself facing New Zealand’s bowling attack and smashing an astonishing 182 runs, setting a new record for the highest score by an England batter in a One-Day International (ODI).

Reflecting on missing the PGA Championship, Stokes humorously remarked, “I was a bit sour about that. I basically played golf today, so I was alright.”

Less than two months ago, beneath the stands at The Oval, Stokes had avoided a barrage of questions from journalists about his post-Ashes plans. At the time, he had declared that he wouldn’t make himself available for the World Cup, citing a need to address his left knee’s issues. However, it turned out to be a clever ruse, as Stokes had already set in motion his return to ODIs in preparation for England’s title defense in the upcoming World Cup in India.

Stokes, known for his cool composure in high-pressure situations, maintained a poker face throughout the deception. “It was, wasn’t it?” he admitted. “I’d been asked a lot about my knee over a long period of time. I knew that I’d be playing in these games and potentially the World Cup. I said that to put you all off the radar.”

Despite his knee troubles, Stokes now contributes primarily as a batsman rather than an all-rounder. His dazzling performance at The Oval only reinforced why Captain Jos Buttler values him for the World Cup. Focusing solely on his batting, unburdened by the challenges of bowling, makes Stokes an even more formidable asset.

Stokes batted at number four in the England lineup for only the tenth time in his 108-match ODI career. With this added responsibility, he delivered the second-highest score by a batter at number four or lower in the history of men’s ODIs, second only to West Indian legend Viv Richards’ remarkable 189 not out against England at Old Trafford in 1984.

Stokes acknowledged the clarity he now has in his role as a batter and stated, “It’s the first time I’ve been clear in my mind that is the one thing I can focus on.” Previously, he had been grappling with the uncertainty of his bowling capabilities, which is no longer a concern. This newfound clarity facilitated Stokes in achieving his fastest ODI century, taking just 76 balls and marking his first ODI century since 2017. He smashed 15 fours and nine sixes, helping England post 368 runs and secure a convincing 181-run victory, giving them a 2-1 series lead.

His record-breaking performance against New Zealand, the country of his birth, brought back memories of his heroic performance in the 2019 World Cup final. This time, Stokes reached new heights with the bat, firmly establishing his prowess.

While New Zealand may be weary of facing the player who could have represented them (as a Black Cap) rather than England, coach Gary Stead graciously acknowledged his admiration for Stokes’ batting. He remarked, “I’d rather he gets his runs now than on 5 October,” referring to the World Cup opener between the two sides in Ahmedabad next month.

Stokes recognizes the challenges of returning to this format, stating, “It’s obviously been a while since playing this format. It’s not as easy as it sounds to just come back and start playing again.” However, his performance at The Oval affirmed his ability to adapt to the dynamics of 50-over cricket.

In declaring his availability for one-day internationals and delivering a quintessential “Stokesian” performance, Ben Stokes has made a resounding statement – he is back. For England, this means another World Cup campaign where the realm of possibilities knows no bounds.

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