It should come as no surprise that Ben Stokes is capable of something special. But that does not detract from his record-breaking batting masterclass in the third ODI against New Zealand at the Oval as England won by 181 runs.
When England call, he answers. There are few better times to find exceptional form than on the eve of a World Cup, never mind that he has come out of ODI retirement just for the tournament.
It was only his third 50-over match since reversing his decision to retire from the format, and he was in exceptional form on his way to setting a new England record with 182 against New Zealand from 124 balls, as the hosts put on 368.
England will soon get on the plane to India, looking to defend the title they won in such memorable fashion back in 2019, and if anyone was in any doubt over Stokes’s ability to pick up immediately in a format he has not played since taking over the Test captaincy, they would be mistaken.
The numbers from his innings will show that he hit nine sixes and 15 fours, but it was the recovery from 13 for two that must also be credited.
Stokes’s efforts carried England to an impressive total of 368, but those looking ahead may be right to be slightly concerned by the collapse following the wicket of the New Zealand-born player.
In fact they were out with 11 balls unused. Having been 13 for two, they lost their last six wickets for just 32, with Trent Boult claiming five wickets for 51 runs.
Despite his feat, the England batter wanted to play down the record breaking: “I mean individual stuff like that not too fussed about but it’s good to come back in after a while out and put in a good contribution to us winning the game,” he said.
“I think today was good for me personally just to get familiarity again with how 50 over cricket goes. We start and we lose a few quick wickets and then to go out and put them under a bit of pressure. There was a couple of times I had to check myself when I looked up and there were still 23 or 24 overs left.
“You actually have way more time than you think. So I think from that game awareness, game smartness, today was good.”
However, one point of contention will always remain when it comes to Stokes, his problematic left knee.
There are few innings now that are not accompanied by wincing and pained stretching, and many will hope he can manage the condition that does not appear to be solved by a six week break from the sport after the Ashes.
Dawid Malan had a key part to play, with his contribution of 96, and was notable in its own right, although it will be overshadowed in both people’s memories and the history books by Stokes’s effort.
Ben Stokes celebrates England’s victory over New Zealand
The record Stokes broke was Jason Roy’s, and on that, he said: “I apologised to Jason [Roy] upstairs! I didn’t know about the record until the guy on the tannoy announced it and I got out next ball. It is satisfying. As an experienced player you want to go out and show the guys you can do that and it isn’t just words.”
When it came to the bowling innings, England could not have done any more. Both Reece Topley and Chris Woakes bowled tight and were rewarded as New Zealand collapsed in their chase of 369 to win.
Woakes claimed three wickets, but there were contributions from all the bowlers as New Zealand were bowled out for 187, just higher than Stokes’s individual total.
Only Glenn Phillips offered any resistance, hitting 72 from 76, but no one was able to stay with him and form a partnership like Malan and Stokes had done in the first innings and after they had slid to 37 for four it felt as if the result was a foregone conclusion.
The World Cup is less than a month away, and the opening game in Ahmedabad will see England take on New Zealand, after they both played off in the final last time. It will be different conditions but England can only hope for as complete a performance as was witnessed by the crowd at the Oval.