Matches (22)
IND v SA (1)
Marsh Cup (1)
PAK v ENG (1)
CPL (3)
County DIV1 (5)
County DIV2 (4)
WI-W v NZ-W (1)
Road Safety (3)
UAE v BAN (1)
Legends League (1)
NZ-A in IND (1)
Match Analysis

Ben Stokes hints at form of old as England hit World Cup run-in

With a performance that helped secure a battling three-wicket win, England saw another piece of the jigsaw fall into place

Ben Stokes pulls through the leg side, England v Pakistan, 4th ODI, Trent Bridge, May 17, 2019

Ben Stokes pulls through the leg side  •  Getty Images

Perhaps this was the game where the final pieces of England's World Cup jigsaw fell into place. First there was Mark Wood proving his form and fitness. Then Tom Curran demonstrated his all-round value and Joe Denly enjoyed a much-improved performance.
It all combined to ensure England held their nerve to secure this series with a match to play. It is now 20 run-chases in a row in which England are undefeated at home.
With no candidates ruling themselves out, England's selectors have been left with some delightfully tough decisions to make. But it seems, right now, as if that final decision may be made between David Willey, who offers left-arm variation and the possibility of swinging the new ball, and Denly, who offers cover in a variety of areas and can be relied upon to be a low-maintenance, high-quality substitute fielder. The emergence of new-ball alternatives, in Wood and Jofra Archer alongside the established Chris Woakes, may not bode well for Willey. The squad is announced on Tuesday morning.
But perhaps the most pleasing aspect of the victory at Trent Bridge, from an England perspective, was the contribution of Ben Stokes.
Rumours of Stokes' recent decline could easily be exaggerated. While it is true he had not, until Friday night, produced an especially eye-catching performance in ODI cricket since the Bristol incident in 2017, his numbers really aren't too bad. He is actually averaging 49.63 with the bat - albeit at a strike rate of 83.23 - in ODI cricket since the start of 2018.
And while his bowling has been a bit anonymous - he has not taken an ODI wicket in seven matches in England since his return - you could make a strong case to suggest Stokes' big problem of late has simply been a lack of opportunity. He bats behind the likes of Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow, after all, with Joe Root, Jos Buttler and Eoin Morgan also eating up chunks of the 50-overs available.
The first-choice England bowling attack, meanwhile, may well only see Stokes used as a sixth bowler. Only once in his last 18 ODIs has he been required to bowl his full allocation of 10 overs and in his last four games he has not bowled more than four overs. That previous statistic about not claiming a wicket in England since 2017 looks bad, but it actually amounts to just 28 overs. He had bowled his full allocation of 10 overs only once in 11 ODIs before Bristol.
Still, he hasn't dominated quite in the way we were coming to expect. He had, for example, made two centuries in the six innings he played before that night, with a career strike rate of 98.74. He also had a bowling average of 38.20 with an economy rate of 6.12. Since Bristol (SB, as it may come to be known) his bowling average is 62.10 and his economy-rate is 6.21.
The suspicion remains that Stokes is so keen to make-up for his irresponsibility in Bristol that he has taken on just a little bit too much responsibility since. So where his batting once seemed gloriously uncomplicated, there is now more knowledge of the consequences of failure; an irony in a team that prides itself on a fearlessness that was largely inherited from Stokes. As Moeen Ali put it recently: "The difference is that his batting has become careful now whereas before it was carefree. I think he feels like he's let us down a little bit and he's trying to make it up."
For that reason, giving Stokes the role of middle-order finisher - a position where every innings' importance can be magnified - may not be especially helpful. But it's the only place available. And while there's no guarantee that Stokes will ever completely recapture the joie de vivre he once enjoyed - like Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones after the mid-70s - the signs on Friday night were that, given the opportunity, he could still do the job.
Make no mistake: this was not a perfect performance. Had Pakistan's fielding been better - even barely competent, might have done it - England could have been in real trouble. But with their outfielding ragged, their catching fallible and their captain apparently not knowing the updated Laws of the game, England found a way to win. Good, confident teams do that.
There is now only one proper match to go - Sunday's ODI in Leeds - before the World Cup. The warm-up games will involve up to 15 players a side, do not carry List A status and may well, as a result, lack intensity (even if Australia are the opponents in one of them). As a result, England are likely to field something close to a full-strength batting side on Sunday. That definitely includes Stokes and it can only be good news for England that he goes into the tournament having recovered some form and confidence.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo