Stokes empowered as heroes collide

The final of the domestic one-day competition may not quite be the time for heroes it once was but a couple of prominent members of England's new generation will bestride the arena at Lord's on Saturday. It was after the Test defeat to India on the same ground earlier in the summer that Ben Stokes lost his place in the England side to Chris Woakes. Now both will be expected to play key roles when Durham take the field against Warwickshrie.

Woakes has become an international fixture to the extent that the final will be his first Royal London Cup appearance, having been previously unavailable. Stokes, by contrast, scored a brutal 164 to help Durham knock out the holders of the 40-over cup, Nottinghamshire, in the semi-final, his second century for his county since being sent back to the ranks after scores of 0, 5, 5, 4, 0, 4, 0, 0, 0, 0 for England.

It was the sort of form to make a man want to punch something. Stokes has already learned that lesson, however. He missed the World T20 and the beginning of the county season recovering from a fractured bone in his wrist - the result of landing a right-hander on a locker after the third duck of that sequence in Barbados in March. Allrounders tend to be seen as cricket's spandex-clad superheroes and it seemed that Stokes' Kryptonite might turn out to be such "moments of stupidity".

"Obviously it wasn't a very clever thing to do, it was quite a hard locker," he said. "If I do go back there I'll try and stay away from it. It was frustrating at the start of the season, being out for the first couple of games. I'm a very bad watcher. Then to get back into the England team was great; to get dropped wasn't so great. I've just tried to go away and make sure that when I did play for Durham, I tried my best to get runs."

Stokes made his England ODI debut in 2011 as a batsman - his first bowl came more than two years later - but that run of single-figure scores, with more zeroes than some IPL contracts, must have tested his belief. His return to Durham, playing a 50-over format that now mirrors international competition, provided a timely transfusion of runs to the system; when back in England colours for one-day and T20 appearances against India, he was no longer flatlining. His role in Australia, where he stirred English souls during an otherwise moribund Ashes, and New Zealand for the World Cup could still be pivotal.

"I guess you can go through patches where you don't score any runs, as I did for England," he said. "It happens, I took it in my stride, made sure I went away and worked on my game and tried to get better. I trained as I normally do, I didn't think I needed to go away and work on anything technical as I wasn't at the crease long enough. I was trying not to look into it too deeply.

"After a couple of low scores your confidence can be affected. Then coming back and feeling in good form with Durham, it did put the confidence back in myself. I guess I did carry that back into the one-dayers with England and then to play a big role in the semi-final was very special, to end up back here at Lord's."

Stokes may be less prone to Hulk-like outbursts in the dressing room but opposition teams certainly don't like him when he's angry. Nottinghamshire were pulverised two weeks ago and Woakes identified him as a player that Warwickshire would like to keep quiet.

His Durham captain, Mark Stoneman, described Stokes as a "jovial character" who helped to lighten the mood after three defeats in the first four group-stage matches. "Everything's clicked from then on in," he said. "It helped having Ben come back and put in some match-winning performances on his own, which he's capable of doing on any given day."

With Durham missing the burly all-round abilities of John Hastings, away at the Champions League, there will be greater demand on Stokes with the ball, as well. Stoneman suggested that is something he will relish. "If he's got a chance of winning games, or an important role, it brings the best out of him. If he's left filling in the gaps he can get a bit frustrated but tomorrow I'm sure he'll be looking to stand up and put in a match-winning performance."

Perhaps that is the answer with England, too. More investment, greater dividends. It seems he has already learned one of Marvel's mottoes: that great power brings great responsibility. The World Cup is less than six months away but Stokes still has time to graduate as one of England's X-Factor Men in a format where they have been cast as stooges and villains.

"The way he performs in county cricket, it seems like he's a sure thing with bat and ball," Stoneman said. "He was frustrated with his performances with the bat at the start of the season but I've got no doubt that he will get back and be a consistent performer for England. He's outstanding with bat, ball and in the field so I think he could be a key player for England."

Durham's one previous Lord's final came in the 2007 FP Trophy, which they won to spark a spell of success that has belied their means. Stokes, a member of the Academy at the time, watched from the stands that day. But he much prefers to do. On Saturday, he will get his chance.