Ben Stokes raised an apologetic hand, bent the middle finger of his left hand, and shook his head. The gesture was for his father, Ged, who died in December and had once undergone a knuckle amputation to extend his rugby career.
But really, there was nothing to regret. Stokes had just fallen for a 52-ball 99 of such simple ferocity that Stuart Broad, commenting in London, compared his innings to a computer game.
His dismissal caused a brief wobble to reminisce about England’s collapse in Tuesday’s first game. But so violent was the beating of Stokes – he turned down a total of 10 sixes and went from 50 to 99 in 11 deliveries – that Jonny Bairstow’s superb 124 of 112 felt almost pedestrian.
England beat India by six wickets to win the second ODI after Jonny Bairstow’s hundred
Ben Stokes was a hundred short, but delivered a sparkling display of power-hitting
The duo shared a 175 partnership when they took the game away from Virat Kohli’s men
As for Bairstow’s 110-in-17-overs booth with Jason Roy – the openers’ 13th-century partnership – that seemed like a distant memory. Not for the first time it was Stokes who stole the show.
It meant England spectacularly squared this three-game run, knocked off a massive target with six wickets and 39 balls left, and guaranteed their No.1 ODI ranking for a while. If they win on Sunday, they could end an exhausting journey with a spring in their stride.
Victory looked unlikely after a century of KL Rahul and a typically destructive 77 of 40 balls from Rishabh Pant had lifted India to 336 for six. But it was significant on several fronts.
Most importantly, England thrived without some of the usual suspects. Eoin Morgan and Joe Root, the two leading century makers in their ODI history, were both missing. Just like Jofra Archer and Mark Wood, their two fastest bowlers. Then there was the injured Sam Billings, the rested Chris Woakes, the exiled Alex Hales.
Stokes reached his fifty from 40 balls, but then scored an incredible 49 of his next 11 deliveries
Kohli and his men looked into the field in bewilderment as they were unable to stop the attack for a while
To see Lancashire’s Liam Livingstone end with a bloom on one-day debut was glimpsing the depths of the white ball in English cricket. They’ll all need it if they want to defend their 50-over title in two years.
Livingstone’s cameo underscored another point, made by Morgan after England was unraveled in the first game. Play wisely, but never forget the aggression that won the World Cup in the first place. After three wickets fell into nine balls, including stand-in captain Jos Buttler for a duck, Livingstone took six consecutive sixes off Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Another name is in the mix.
Stokes did more than just the last memory of his talents. The T20 World Cup kicks off in India in October and this seemed undeniable for the number 3 position.
The role currently belongs to Dawid Malan, but his at bat against spin during the recent 20-over series was inconclusive. Stokes was less hesitant: his attack left India’s two slow left arms – Kuldeep Yadav and Krunal Pandya – behind with collective numbers of 16-0-156-0.
India was also upset that Stokes didn’t pick up on a throw from Kuldeep Yadav (left) in depth before reaching his fiftieth birthday.
Prasidh Krishna took a few late wickets, but England rode home with more than six overs
The contrast with England’s slow bowlers was telling. Moeen Ali has had an almost non-existent winter, thanks to Covid-19, rest and rotation, and some unsympathetic selection. But he only got 47 in his 10 overs, rushing through the middle of the innings with Adil Rashid as India stuck to their policy of building slowly and exploding later.
If England were looking for evidence prior to the World Cup that Ali could be a white ball force in this part of the world, this was it.
Buttler was also grateful for a smart death bowling from Reece Topley, the tall left-armman who made his international comeback last summer after a lengthy layoff for injury. With India on track for 350, he faced just four in the 48th, when Hardik Pandya wreaked havoc, and nine in the 50th.
Jason Roy also scored half a century in Pune before being eliminated by Rohit Sharma
Previously, KL Rahul scored its fifth ODI century for India to help the hosts reach a total of 337
Despite this, India still managed 126 of their last 10, with Tom Curran in particular being assaulted. Tours allow management to learn a lot – good and bad – about their players, and Curran’s overall returns in both white-ball formats in South Africa and India this winter are now at four for 288 from 32 overs. The 83 he admitted here were a personal low.
However, this didn’t seem like the time to argue. Instead, it felt like a throwback to the salad days before and into the summer of 2019, when England skinned everything for them.
Amazingly, they had never chased more than 266 to defeat India way back in 1974, but Roy got them going with a boundary-strewn half century, before being exhausted by Rohit Sharma’s sharp work at short midwicket.
He shared a 113-run collaboration with Rishabh Pant that fired an astonishing half-century
Rahul and Captain Kohli rebuilt the innings Friday with their own century standard
Stokes, too, may have been exhausted after hesitating for more than a second. Perhaps concerned that he would be hit by Kuldeep Yadav’s throw from the deep, he carefully reached for the crease just as the ball hit the stumps. Repeats suggested no part of his bat was behind the line, but TV referee Anil Chaudhary said he wasn’t sure.
At 32 at the time, Stokes cashed in on the delay. When Bairstow reached his 11th hundred days, he had 39. By the time Stokes had finished 99 and pulled down Bhuvneshwar’s leg side with a glove, Bairstow had 123. They hit 17 sixes between them and added 175 in 19 overs of unadulterated chaos.
It was the equal of everything this team was on its way to becoming world champions. And it can encourage them to think about a simple truth: what was done once can be done again.