Ben Stokes’ memorable return to action in England’s near miss against New Zealand left his captain Eoin Morgan measuring delight and frustration after an eventful day in Hamilton.
Stokes, in his first international match since he was arrested outside a Bristol nightclub five months ago, hauled England back into contention with two wickets in his second spell as New Zealand nonetheless chased a target of 284 for eight with four balls to spare.
They also had three wickets in hand, thanks to Ross Taylor’s 18th one-day international century in a stand of 178 with Tom Latham (79) and then some late muscle from Mitchell Santner – who hit four sixes and two fours from 27 balls in his unbeaten 45 from number eight.
New Zealand therefore clinched their ninth successive ODI victory to go 1-0 up with four to play.
“When you lose, it’s always frustrating … but there are big positives to take,” said Morgan.
Jos Buttler (79) and Joe Root (71) contributed the majority of England’s runs in a patchy total after they were put in on a slow, used pitch.
Stokes could muster only 12 from 22 balls but bowled admirably for figures of two for 43, including the wicket of Latham.
Reflecting on the all-rounder’s comeback performance, Morgan said: “I’m really pleased.
“I thought he adapted to conditions perfectly well, using slower balls well.”
The captain was able to report too that Stokes himself was in his element back on the international stage.
“He’s delighted to be back – he’s told everybody that.
“It’s an awesome feeling, when you’ve been away and you’re back in a fun environment, with lots of good friends around.
“I can vouch for that.
“I spend a lot of time away while the Tests are on. You come back, and it puts a smile on your face.”
It was a surprise to see Stokes recalled for a second spell after four tidy overs at his first attempt – but it was a move which very nearly paid off.
“After the first spell, he said he could have bowled longer, but we didn’t really need him at that stage,” added Morgan.
“We needed something to happen, and he’s the kind of player who can make something happen.”
Adil Rashid did too, having Taylor stumped for 113, only to then concede successive sixes to Santner to reduce the runs required from 34 off 18 balls to 22 from 16.
Taylor had praise for both Stokes and Santner as he assessed a thrilling contest.
Of England’s returning all-rounder, he said: “He bowled heavy, (and then) he bowled a lot of ‘change-ups’.
“He adapted well – along with (Tom) Curran, he was quite hard to hit.
“I’m sure he’ll be better for the hit-out, (but) there are definitely no cobwebs there.”
Sitting alongside Santner at his post-match press conference, Taylor added: “Credit to this guy – Tommy and I did well, but the way he was able to get us across the line was very important.
“If you get a hundred and you lose, it doesn’t mean much.”