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'We don't really fear too much' - Ben Stokes after crushing target of 337

After stunning partnership, Bairstow says Stokes' batting complementary to his, meaning "people don't like to bowl at us"

Alan Gardner
Alan Gardner
England stuck to their "no fear" philosophy and came good to level the series in Pune, testament to faith in their methods as well as the strength in depth they possess in the batting department. Even without Joe Root, who has been rested for this series, and the injured Eoin Morgan and Sam Billings, England powered to a target of 337 on the back of Jonny Bairstow's hundred and a 52-ball 99 from Ben Stokes.
Despite having collapsed in the face of a smaller target in the first ODI, going from 135 without loss after 14.1 overs to 251 all out, England showed no signs of changing their approach. Another century opening stand was followed by Bairstow and Stokes opening up the throttle during a partnership of 175 in 18.5 overs, as England got home with more than six overs to spare.
"Obviously we were bitterly disappointed in that first game, with the way that we played the chase, but I think it was pretty clear that we were going to go out with the same intent as we always do," Stokes told the host broadcaster Star Sports. "We're really happy that we managed to get over the line quite easily, especially when India set a really challenging total. [The pitch] was probably a bit quicker than the first game, but over the years we've set big totals, we've chased big totals, so we don't really fear too much, to be honest, and we go out and we always try and play as positively as we can."
That sentiment was echoed by Bairstow, who followed up 94 from 66 balls in the first match with 124 from 112 to set up a series decider on Sunday, the final encounter of England's tour of India.
"If you actually break the game down only from a couple of days ago, we were way ahead of the game," he said. "A couple of bits happened and a couple of wickets fell but we were way ahead of that game and that was something that we went away and spoke about and identified. To win that, chase down 337 with six-seven overs left and six wickets in the shed is something that we were really pleased with."
England were forced to make two changes to their batting line-up after the first ODI, with captain Morgan ruled out of the series by a hand injury and Billings missing with a bruised collar bone. Dawid Malan, currently the No. 1-ranked T20I batsman, came in for only his second ODI appearance and alongside Liam Livingstone saw England home after a minor wobble in which they lost 3 for 2 in nine balls.
The sight of Livingstone, on debut, striking Bhuvneshwar Kumar for back-to-back sixes having barely taken any time to settle at the crease was again indicative of England's aggression.
"I think that's the biggest thing, and we've spoken about it for a period of time now, that strength in depth in the squad," Bairstow said. "You've seen it many times, people coming in and performing. And also, Morgs has spoken about backing people that are in place in their positions because if you're in a side and you're not sure if you're playing the next game, it can add some anxieties to it. But with the way that Morgs has gone about it, if you're playing and you're in possession he'll give you a proper crack.
Having scored his 11th ODI hundred, Bairstow is now behind only Root, Morgan and Marcus Trescothick for England. All of Bairstow's centuries have come since he moved up to open in 2017, during which time he has formed a formidable opening partnership with Roy.
"Well naturally I'd like to have the most ODI hundreds for England. I'm happy. I think that's the biggest thing since opening the batting. I've got 11 [hundreds], I think I've opened only 56-57 [56] times so yeah I'm happy with those figures - but they mean nothing if you don't keep converting them in the future. So, look, I'm happy with how I'm playing cricket at the moment and I'm really enjoying it."
While Bairstow and Roy have now added 13 century opening stands together in ODIs, this was only the second time that Bairstow and Stokes have notched three figures together. They were particularly severe on India's spinners, Kuldeep Yadav and Krunal Pandya, during a five-over period that went for 87, with Stokes in destructive mood - from 50 off 40 balls, he went 6-6-6-1-6-4-2-6-6-2-4 before tickling a Kumar bouncer behind.
"We speak about match-ups in our changing room, and against the opposition, and I took the decision that with the spinners coming on, that was my match-up, to take the risk and just let Jonny keep doing his thing," Stokes said. "He's in unbelievable form at the moment so you don't really need to be talking too much to him. Just let him get on with his business. But it's all about picking your match-ups."
Bairstow added that his and Stokes' complementary strengths meant that "people don't like to bowl at us".
"You can make the obvious comparisons of being right-handed and left-handed," he said. "Because then all of a sudden if there's a left-arm orthodox that's turning it into Ben, then give him the strike because you know the power and how destructive he can be and vice versa.
"I think that we complement each other well, like with Jason at the top of the order. But then [Stokes] being the left-hander and scoring in some slightly different areas, you're making the bowler of think all the time as to where they need to deliver the ball. It's a good place to be."

Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick