Ben Stokes' phenomenal century for Rising Pune Supergiant in the IPL will have spin-off benefits for England's Champions Trophy campaign, says Eoin Morgan, the one-day captain, who feels the ECB's belated change of attitude towards overseas leagues has finally been vindicated.
Stokes, who became the most expensive overseas signing in IPL history when RPS picked him up for £1.7million at the IPL auction in February, went a long way towards justifying that price tag with a blistering innings of 103 not out from 63 balls against Gujarat Lions at Pune, a performance that rescued his side from 10 for 3 and delivered a five-wicket win with one ball to spare.
As a measure of Stokes' dominance, the next highest score in RPS's innings of 167 for 5 was 26 from 33 balls from MS Dhoni, with whom Stokes added 76 for the fifth wicket. After the match, RPS's captain, Steven Smith, hailed Stokes as a "a perfect fit for our team".
Morgan, who has been a long-standing advocate of greater English involvement at the IPL, believes that Stokes will head into the Champions Trophy next month with his confidence sky-high, thanks to the quality of his performance, as well as the calibre of the players with whom he has been mixing for the past four weeks.
"It was absolutely incredible," Morgan said. "You look at why guys go and play in tournaments like this, and it is so that they can produce performances like Ben's, and sit in the same team as the Australian captain and an Indian legend, and out-perform them.
"It builds a huge amount of confidence and it's a huge stepping block for us as England cricketers because the huge challenge as a professional cricketer is to get to where you aspire to be, and gain the confidence through that to do it again and again. It is a game that's played in the mind."
Although the Champions Trophy will be played over 50 overs, not 20, Morgan has no doubt about Stokes' ability to transfer his form to a longer format.
"It just proves he can compete with the best," Morgan said. "Fifty-over cricket has come a long way. The similarities with T20 aren't that far away, and rubbing shoulders with the best names in the world, outperforming them and growing in confidence playing with them, are two things he'll have in abundance when he comes back. It makes us grow as a group knowing that we have a player who is potentially the best in the world."
Morgan himself has had a less auspicious campaign in this year's IPL. He flew back from India on Monday to prepare for this week's ODI series against Ireland, having played just three matches in four weeks for Kings XI Punjab, with a top score of 26.
However, unlike Surrey's Jason Roy, who has opted to cut short his stint with Gujarat Lions and gain 50-over match practice in the Royal London Cup, Morgan plans to return to India next week. His hopes of selection in the coming weeks will be improved by the impending recall of the squad's contingent of South African players ahead of the Champions Trophy, among them the hard-hitting David Miller.
"We've a lot of overseas players at the moment so competition for places is tough, but the dynamic will change. I think Jason is a bit further away from playing at the moment, but it's a decision that we've made, and he's comfortable with what he needs and how he'll get it."
But now that he is back in the country, and with the first of two ODIs against Ireland taking place in Bristol on Friday, Morgan is impatient to get England's international summer underway.
"It's very exciting, and it's something we've been looking forward to for quite a while now. I wish it would hurry up and come round, but once we start playing these games it'll fly round.
"I think we are definitely in with a shout [for the Champions Trophy]," he added. "We have all the attributes to go and win the tournament but it's a ruthless competition, you need to win pretty much every game from group stage and straight through.
"It's come at an important time for us. And it'll be a good gauge of where we are at as a side. We've done a lot of great stuff up until now, but we still have a long way to go before [the] 2019 [World Cup]."