The pressure on him and England would not have come close in comparison on Sunday, but Eden Gardens produced another thriller, things going down to the last ball of the match. Flashbacks of the loss to West Indies would have come storming back, especially when Kedar Jadhav struck the first ball of the final over for a six off Chris Woakes.
Stokes, who had bowled the last over in the World T20 final, had finished his quota of overs earlier on Sunday. Captain Eoin Morgan later said that had nothing to do with last year's memories, and Stokes' bowling did prove so. Once Hardik Pandya and Jadhav narrowed the equation to 47 runs needed off 30 balls, Stokes came on for his last two overs. Pandya had been swinging his bat in unorthodox fashion, and England needed it to stop. Stokes brought out pace variations, the full and wide deliveries, and on the third ball of the 46th over, he sent down a straightforward length delivery angled for the middle stump. Pandya swung for the hills again, and the ball crashed into top of middle. A first-ball yorker welcomed Ravindra Jadeja from Stokes, and with more deliveries aimed at the stumps, he conceded only four runs in the over. This made Morgan bowl Stokes out immediately instead of saving him for the end.
When Woakes conceded 16 runs in the next over, the pressure was back on England; India needed 27 from 18. Stokes continued to use pace variations with good-length deliveries and didn't allow Jadhav to target his preferred cover boundary. He conceded only four runs in the over, dismissed Ashwin, and the equation was now 23 from 12 balls - more in England's favour.
"The plan was pretty obvious with what we wanted to do; we just wanted to try and get them to hitting to one side of the field and change up," Stokes said after the match. "There was always something in the wicket throughout the whole innings, so even just trying to smash a hard length rather than going out and out with yorkers was still a good wicket-taking option because it was so hard to hit cleanly through the ball. Under lights the ball seems to be sticking in the wicket a bit, the slower ball also helps. We had a few options in a few different deliveries. We set the field correctly with what we wanted to do."
Stokes had leaked 79 runs in nine overs during the second ODI, punished particularly by Yuvraj Singh on a small ground and flat pitch in Cuttack. Stokes made much better use of the seamer-friendly track in Kolkata and bowled smarter variations, but he still thinks there is room for improvement.
"It's nice to come out here and perform decently I think in alien conditions," he said. "There's still improvement [to be made, things] I want to correct with the ball. I've been very expensive over the last many series' we've been playing. Consistency is the thing I'm trying to work on, because any sign of a bad ball and the top players in the world are going to pounce on it and punish you, which has been shown not just by our bowling but our batsmen have managed to do that to the Indian bowlers as well. Consistency with the bowling hopefully will come, but it's not through lack of trying and hard work."
It was in his first spell though that he got the prize wicket of India's chase master Virat Kohli with a delivery that has undone the India captain often - full and wide outside off, making him chase it with hard hands. And when Stokes did that, Kohli edged the ball to Jos Buttler and was dismissed even before the halfway mark.
During their batting innings too, England needed Stokes. Pandya had choked the flow of runs with the wickets of Morgan, Buttler and Jonny Bairstow in the space of nine overs and, on 237 for 5, England still had nearly nine overs left to play.
Stokes displayed audacious batting - he belted Ashwin over long-on on the ninth ball of his innings even with a player at long-on in place for that shot. But he also had to demonstrate clever batting. England do possess a lot of depth in their line-up but going for strokes in the death overs on this pitch was not going to be easy. A team would rather have a batsman shepherd the tail, rather than leave everything to the tail on a tricky pitch.
When England were six down, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who impressed with his death bowling in Cuttack, returned. His signature accuracy was to be watched out for, and as expected he didn't waver much. Stokes, though, was almost one step ahead. He stamped his authority with a six off the first ball of the 46th over, again over long-on. Bhuvneshwar replied with a yorker. Next ball, anticipating another yorker, Stokes came down and converted the dipping delivery into a low full toss and crunched it straight down, beating the long-on fielder for four. Bhuvneshwar replied with another yorker, this one took Stokes' edge but it fell just short of MS Dhoni. If boundaries were not easy to get, there were other ways to collect runs. Stokes played shrewd cricket by placing the ball in the gaps on the next two balls for two couples. Even though Bhuvneshwar had not bowled a bad over, the over's tally read 16.
In Bhuvneshwar's next over too, Stokes steered a yorker to the third-man boundary and brought up a half-century in his 50th ODI. Morgan believed Stokes still has more to offer.
"I reckon he's got more in the tank. He's an incredible player to have in the side, I always say it's a luxury to have a player like him in your team," Morgan said. "He gives you everything he has got on the day, which is a lot. And we don't take that for granted."
Stokes stayed till the end of the innings, unbeaten on 57, making sure England got past the 300 mark comfortably. Nearly four hours later, even as India got past 300, Stokes again played a crucial role to ensure the hosts did not go into the T20 series with the confidence of a whitewash.