For Ben Stokes, glory. For New Zealand, ignominy. In the space of a couple of weeks England’s Test captain has gone from being history to making it, and in just his third match after reversing his decision to retire from one-day internationals Stokes thrashed 182 off 124 balls, the highest score by an Englishman in the format, to inspire his side to a one-sided, 181-run win.
Arriving at the crease with England 13 for two and in trouble, Stokes left it with the score 348 for six and victory all but certain, along the way compiling a 199-run partnership with the excellent Dawid Malan. But if his innings is England’s greatest in the format, it was not altogether great: for a while it was downright scruffy, a tale of mistimed heaves, of miscues and edges. Once he started to middle it, however, the bowlers’ averages, the spectators’ personal safety and a variety of national records were in danger, and there were some fabulous strikes as he motored towards history.
Glenn Phillips’s part-time spin had proved surprisingly effective until Stokes dumped him into the stands twice in the 42nd over, one of those shots dropping only just short of the third tier of the pavilion. At the end of the over he changed his bat, and with his first swing of the new one he pummelled a Ben Lister full toss into the crowd for six more. He hit nine sixes in all – between them the rest of the England team and all of New Zealand’s managed four – and 15 fours before undercooking an attempt to savage another Lister full toss.
Stokes’s incendiary innings was watched by the man whose record he took, Jason Roy applauding from the dressing room – with little evident relish – as his 180 against Australia in Melbourne in 2018 was nudged to No 2 in England’s all-time list. Roy had plenty of other reasons to look uncomfortable, having been ruled out of this game following another back spasm, and his iron grip on a place in the World Cup squad is weakening along, it seems, with his body.
Beyond Stokes’s innings, the most remarkable thing about the 12th-highest total of England’s ODI history was how few batters made notable contributions to it, with two wickets lost for 13 runs at the start of the innings, and five for 20 at its end. Jonny Bairstow fell to a fine catch by Devon Conway off the first ball of the day, and Joe Root followed soon afterwards. His has been a miserable series so far, with his four off seven here joining previous efforts of six and nought. The last time he had such a dire run in ODIs was when – albeit over a period of three months – he scored five, one and seven in successive innings against West Indies and Ireland in 2019, just before a World Cup which he ended with an average of 61.77 and a winner’s medal.
Malan meanwhile started beautifully, before first falling into Stokes’s shadow and then to Trent Boult, four away from a century. For all the frustration of failing to reach a landmark score Malan has had an excellent few days with a half-century in the first game of this series, a near-century in the third, and a few days off in between to be present at the birth of his son, Dawid Johannes Malan V (junior). At 36 he is still improving in this format: in 2021 he averaged 44.66 in five innings, in 2022 59.40 in six, and so far this year 66.28 in eight, and whatever doubt existed over his place in the World Cup squad has surely been dispelled.
Jos Buttler’s timing was even sweeter, until having scored 38 off 24 it deserted him and he toe-ended to deep midwicket off Phillips, the dismissal confirmed only after the TV umpire had watched several replays and cogitated for a while on the law covering the back-foot no-ball.
The link between the phases of their innings in which England struggled was that Boult was bowling in them, and he claimed his sixth five‑fer in his 101st ODI. Meanwhile Lister, having been called into the squad as a result of Adam Milne’s injury largely because he happened to be nearby, took three wickets. This was only his second ODI, and just a month ago he was playing for Horsham in the Sussex League, for whom he took 21 wickets in 11 games and apparently did some sterling work behind the bar.
If victory seemed distant when New Zealand started their reply, by the time they were 37 for four – with Chris Woakes bowling beautifully in an unbroken eight-over spell – it was a pinprick on a far-off horizon. Phillips brought some fight, and scored 72 off 75 before he was given out lbw off Liam Livingstone. He successfully reviewed, but in similar circumstances off the very next ball he was given not out and this time the successful review was England’s.