Another ICC final has come and gone with Ben Stokes the man who, once again, we owe everything to. This time around, it was the box-office all-rounder’s 52 from 49 balls that guided us home after Pakistan threatened to pull off an incredible feat by defending a low score. Indeed, Babar Azam’s men were on course for a famous victory in Melbourne until Stokes walked out to bat and then proceeded to do what he does best: win cricket matches for England when all hope looks lost.
Thanks to Ben’s heroics at the MCG, England now hold both World Cups in the white-ball format and will attempt to make it a hat-trick of wins in India next year during the 2023 ODI showpiece. Tellingly, if you bet on cricket, then you’ll see that England are just behind hosts India as the favourites in the betting odds for the tournament at a price of 3/1 to win the World Cup. Should we manage this feat, it would undoubtedly be one of the most impressive accomplishments in the history of the limited overs game. Indeed, if England did manage it, some might suggest our white ball teams would rival the great Australian sides of the late 90s and early 2000s that revolutionised the shortest formats.
With Stokes in the ranks, of course, literally anything is possible and history could be within touching distance. The disappointing reality, however, is that our match-winner retired from the ODI format in 2022 because he wanted to focus on his new role as Test captain.
Stokes inspires a Test revolution
As with anything that Stokes seemingly decides to do in his life, it was a decision that paid immediate dividends as England completed back-to-back series wins by defeating South Africa. However, perhaps a bit more context to these remarkable wins is important given that England had previously lost four series on the bounce and went nine Tests without winning a match. This abysmal run of form was enough for the Daily Mail to brand it ‘12 months from hell’. However, just six months later, having beaten New Zealand and the Proteas, the tabloids were celebrating a spectacular Test summer of victories secured in an emphatic and entertaining style.
Needless to say, to describe this turnaround as impressive would be an egregious understatement when you consider how little time Stokes and new coach Brendon McCullum had to implement their style. Irrespective of the challenges they faced, the duo were incredibly successful and Stokes’s decision to retire from ODIs looks vindicated.
It has, however, come at the cost of not being eligible for selection for next year’s World Cup unless he performs a retirement U-turn. There have been whispers following the T20 final win over Pakistan that the 31-year-old may be open to the idea of playing at the 2023 World Cup, with England head coach Matthew Mott stoking the flames by saying that that the all-rounder will “do what’s right for English cricket.”
Admittedly, Mott’s statement is one that is quite opened-ended, but it gives us hope that our most valued star might return to win yet another World Cup. After all, when the pressure’s on, nobody is better at getting England over the line than our incredible ginger talisman.
Hopefully Stokes will stick to his guns. We’ve plenty of middle order batting, including Root, so we don’t need him there. His bowling is useful but we’ve also got plenty of bowlers who bat usefully. He’s certainly a talisman in the dressing room but he’s hardly essential. We want to keep him fit for the test matches, where he is key.
Is there an argument for Stokes playing in the World Cup event but not actually practicing ODIs either before or afterwards? There’s nothing more valuable in the closing stages of knockout cricket than a finisher who remains impervious to pressure.
I’d be surprised, if the news that he’s interested in putting his name up for the IPL auction (which makes some sense if he’s going to concentrate on two formats) is true. Given that the ECB will be putting pressure on him to play in the Hundred, that would mean he would essentially not get a break from the start of February to the end of November 2024–and it would already mean he only got one month off in 2024 after mid-Jan, part of which would be a four-month tour oif India.. Even if he didn’t play any other ODI cricket, as James suggests. That’s ten weeks off high-intensity cricket in almost two years.
We have to accept Stokes can’t do everything. He’s already been open about the mental health problems he’s faced, and the last thing we want is him suffering from burnout and unable to play for England at all. We’re lucky to have him for both Tests and T20I – something has to give, and the 50-over format is the one we’ll have to manage without him.
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