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It was a long time coming but England finally beat Australia and it was the all-round performance of Ben Stokes that went a long way to ending the barren run
Vithushan Ehantharajah at the WACA
January 24, 2014
England win; nothing else matters
Alastair Cook smiled. There were definitely teeth. Teeth that were not hidden behind a frown or his own consoling palm. Then there were hugs - the sort of hugs miners give each other upon finally seeing daylight after months of being trapped underground with nothing but your own thoughts and a dead budgie for company.
England had won their first competitive game on this tour, and done it in some style. No one was more surprised than Cook, who momentarily lost the ability to speak post-match. When he regained it, he muddled his words, referring to "bowling plans" as "bowling machines", before smiling some more. Relief, for one night, thy name is Alastair.
It was the batting what done it. Maligned in the Tests, England's ODI form has been a major plus. Yet again they set a target of greater than 300, with this 316 becoming England's second-highest ODI score on Australian soil. It's a score they will have to be able to reproduce elsewhere, but it does look to be developing into a habit.
They were professional with the ball, as Ben Stokes finished with four wickets. He was hot-headed yet focused, but it was his 70 in the first part of this encounter that really mattered.
The Perth track, with its deep running cracks, is probably the hardest in the world to roll up and carry around with you. Stokes would probably have to pull it out, piece by piece, before eliciting the services of a puzzle-shrewd nan to reassemble at his behest. He should seriously look into it.
Cook on Stokes, Buttler contributions
Unflustered by the crumbling mosaic before him, his maiden Test hundred in the fourth innings at the WACA was a silver lining on the mushroom cloud of England's capitulation on the day they handed back the Ashes.
The most impressive thing about Stokes is the extra force he puts into shots, without losing his form. This extra strength means he can stick to a relatively orthodox game between Powerplays, and back himself to beat boundary riders to the rope.
Deep leg-side fielders were given the run around, particularly off Mitchell Johnson, as Stokes used express pace on the ball to time perfectly through square leg and midwicket. More timing was evident when he went to fifty, as he danced down to Glenn Maxwell and helped him over his head for six.
Quite whether Stokes at No. 3 is a viable option in home conditions remains to be seen, but on today's evidence he looks a good bet on these quick batting tracks which will host next year's World Cup.
Stokes's departure, and that of Ravi Bopara, set England back in their pursuit of 300 and more, until Jos Buttler arrested the funk and then brought his patented noise, to the tune of 71 off 43 balls.
For all the deserved fanfare that comes with the England's keeper ability to hit far and true over and under his shoulders, the highlights of his 34-ball fifty were his shots along the carpet. He drove Johnson expertly past mid-off early on, before pulling him in front of square as if time wasn't an issue, before repeating the trick off Nathan Coulter-Nile.
Immediately past 50, he took 14 off three consecutive balls from James Pattinson with a lap shot, wide swipe and a shot down the ground for six into the off-beige seats in the Prindiville Stand. He had time to dish out one more clubbed six before he departed.
Those on the grassy bank to the left of the press box didn't quite know what to do with themselves. It could have been the heat, as a potentially raucous bunch of Bucketheads went from cheering every wicket to applauding sixes between reapplying sun cream. But there was an audible sigh when Buttler holed out to third man. He clearly looked frustrated that he wasn't there at the end.
No one in the dressing room would have told him to take solace in his herculean effort. On the field, he's a ruthless operator. Off it, he's shockingly docile.
Watching him hold court with the media earlier in the week was an oddly enlightening experience. The first time you hear him speak you wonder how someone so shy in front of tens can perform so emphatically in front of thousands. All his words are delivered with the good grace of the well behaved do-gooder at school that your parents wished you were.
His conversation on the eve of this fourth ODI contained a healthy smattering of management speak, punctuated by the odd "obviously" and "if you want to win games of cricket" (they do, by the way). But such was his delivery, each word showcasing seemingly bottomless dimples, you wanted him to feel like you were hearing it all for the first time: "That's a good point, Jos; you do have to be confident to be a professional sportsman."
Still, there was one moment where the charm dissolved in an instant and, as his brow furrowed, his eye tightened to adopt a stern, almost reptilian, stare. It's a look county and, slowly, international bowlers are all too familiar with. It's a look that promises calculated malice.
This time, away from the middle, we were treated to it at close quarters when he was asked if there was any chance of him moving up the order. "No," came the frank reply.
It wasn't as ridiculous a question as Buttler made it seem. Admittedly English cricket, particularly in the limited-overs form, gets twitchy when a player below No. 5 displays any sort of aptitude with the bat. But the truth is England can get more from Buttler simply by moving him up one space, ahead of Ravi Bopara, who has proved ineffective in the second Powerplay.
Of the 120 deliveries England have had between overs 35 and 40 during the first four ODIs, Bopara has faced 44 of them and only managed to score 38 runs. By comparison, Eoin Morgan has scored 62 runs off the 45 balls he has had. Buttler has only batted for 12 of them.
This is no new issue for Bopara. By Opta's calculations, since the rule change came into effect at the end of October 2012, Bopara, against Test playing nations, has faced the joint-highest number of deliveries in this particular Powerplay (96) yet has a personal tally of 81 for 7. Buttler on the other hand is 77 for 4 from a less wasteful 68 balls.
With Kevin Pietersen to slot back in, re-reintegrating pending, not to mention Jonathan Trott, who is said to be "in great fettle", Bopara's position will only come under further scrutiny, soon; though his bowling performances in this series work firmly in his favour.
But not tonight. Maybe not even on this tour. For now, let these men who have been hammered, from pillar to post, bask in the glory of victory and sweat out disappointment with its warm glow. Just don't mention the series score.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Plays of the Day from the second ODI between England and India, in Cardiff
Plays of the day from the third ODI between England and India at Trent Bridge