Bringing Ben Stokes back in from the cold to play in the T20 World Cup is the right call from the England selectors despite the all-rounder not having played in an international game in the shortest format since July 2021. There is, of course, an argument doing the rounds which suggests that Stokes is severely underprepared and not ready to be thrust into the unforgiving limelight of a T20 World Cup. The reality, however, is that England can afford to carry Stokes along as a passenger whilst he acclimatizes to the format again owing to the X factor that he brings to the side.
An under-par Stokes is better than no Stokes
Admittedly, it will take a match or two for Stokes to find his rhythm again in the T20 arena after a 14-month absence. At the same time, it’s important to say that the all-rounder has, of course, still been active but has instead dedicated his services to red-ball cricket after being named as the Test captain.
It was a decision that would have cost Stokes a significant sum of money after he turned down lucrative contracts to play in various T20 formats around the world as well as the second edition of The Hundred. It does look, however, as if Stokes made the right choice after leading England to series victories against New Zealand and South Africa over the summer. In short, England’s talisman who is renowned for his positive mindset hasn’t been sitting on his hands but rather been at the forefront of a Test revival for his country. Essentially, this run of cricket in the longest format should, to a certain degree, help him hit the ground running in Australia for the T20 World Cup. Although before we focus on Stokes’ star qualities, it’s first worth pointing out that the 31-year-old doesn’t dominate the T20 game as he does the other two formats.
Stokes’ ordinary T20 career numbers
Perhaps this is another reason to temper expectations when Stokes comes back given that he is yet to score a fifty for England in T20s whilst he averages 37.73 with the ball, and goes at a relatively expensive rate of 8.77 to the over. Put another way, that isn’t a record that will be remembered when he retires and is, if anything, on the underwhelming side.
Numbers only tell a fraction of the story
However, what those stats don’t illustrate is the moments when Stokes is able to single-handedly change a game. Indeed, it could be a quick-fire 20 that restores England’s momentum in a run chase or taking a crucial wicket that sets his country on course for victory. This is a man who is, after all, famed for having a golden arm which basically means that even if Stokes’ bowling numbers don’t pop out at you, he has an invaluable knack for taking a wicket when England desperately needs one.
The reality is that this is a priceless asset for any captain to have and another reason why the English T20 hierarchy would have lobbied passionately for Stokes’ inclusion in the World Cup squad despite a lengthy absence away from the format. As we now know, it was a plea that fell on receptive ears with the Red Bull athlete set to feature prominently in England’s World Cup campaign Down Under. What’s more is that coach Matthew Mott’s squad selection has led to England being heavily tipped to enjoy a long run in the tournament as the latest ICC T20 World Cup odds reveal with England, as of the 7th of October, priced at 15/4 to win the tournament. Tellingly, only India and hosts Australia have better odds which goes to show how competitive this England side are predicted to be despite being over 9,000 miles away from home. Indeed, another reason in favour of England enjoying a promising campaign is the famous Barmy Army supporters group who travel all over the world in large numbers which means that the English will have a level of support that feels like a home game at the 2022 World Cup.
Yes, these supporters will arrive in Australia full of optimism and why shouldn’t they? They have an explosive side which now includes the irrepressible Stokes, who are ready to go all the way and win the competition.
It’s about to get personal
To conclude, it’s also worth taking into account how determined Stokes will be on a personal level given that he blames himself for England’s 2016 T20 World Cup final loss after he bowled the final over of the game that saw Carlos Brathwaite launch four consecutive sixes high into the Kolkata night sky. Needless to say, it was enough for the West Indies to pull off a famous win at Eden Gardens which left Stokes shell-shocked after he set out to defend 18 at the start of the over.
With this in mind, the world can expect to see an exceptionally driven Stokes at the 2022 T20 World Cup and any rust from a year-long T20 absence should fall off when this sensational all-rounder gets stuck into the heat of battle.