ODI series: About time! Ben Stokes gives England the elusive tas te of vic tory against Australia
A rapid-fire 71 from Jos Buttler helps England to record a 57-run victory any finally earn relief as they avoid equalling their worst ever run of defeats
Rejoicing in the streets may be too extreme a reaction to England’s first international win of the winter. A spot of dancing on the tables, however, followed by a glass of bubbly and a quiet rendition of “There’ll Always Be An England” might be entirely in order.
Such was the level of relief after victory eventually arrived here in Perth following eight successive international losses on a disastrous tour. As much as this win by 57 runs was welcome in avoiding the ninth loss of the winter and the 10th in a row in all, the manner of its achievement was equally gratifying.
The main protagonists were two players around whom the future must be built, and given the inadequate performances on this tour that future should start immediately.
Ben Stokes, who scored a maiden Test century at the Waca a month ago, followed that with a determined ODI career-best 70 and four wickets in the fourth one-day international.
Jos Buttler, whose batting verges on the edge of genius at times, played a quite delightful innings of 71 from 43 balls which took the tourists to a total of 316 for 8 and then took five catches, including that which ended the contest. Stokes is already in the Test team and Buttler, despite his perceived shortcomings in the longer game, is clearly so gifted that he ought to be given serious consideration to assume the position as wicketkeeper-batsman.
There has been plenty of talk about the end of an era but if that is to mean anything the start of a new one has to be accompanied by some visionary work among the selectors. Stokes and Buttler are the sort of young players who make looking ahead a fairly straightforward proposition.
This showed that a week is as long a time in cricket as in politics, probably longer on tours of Australia when your team have been duffed up on a regular basis.
If nothing else now, England must feel that they can absorb the lessons of this series for use in the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand a year hence.
“When you come to new conditions with five new men you have to learn very quickly,” the England captain Alastair Cook said afterwards. “Certain fields you can set in the sub-continent you can’t set here. We need to make sure we remember this stuff for when we hit the World Cup.”
Stokes made only one crucial mistake in his performance, when he dropped a catch in the deep which would have closed Australia’s innings three overs earlier. If it proved he is not exempt from mistakes, he had already showed the stuff he is made of.
Perhaps he is not the long-term answer to the conundrum of who should bat at No 3 for England but he has taken to the role without demur. He played here with a determination and grit which immediately made him difficult to dislodge.
If anything, his bowling was more admirable. When he bowled in the closing overs at Brisbane a week earlier he was taken to the cleaners by James Faulkner. Rather than run for cover, he was virtually pleading with Cook to let him have another go and his reward was to keep finding the edge of Australian bats, including that of Faulkner.
England celebrate taking the wicket of James Faulkner of Australia
Buttler was quite brilliant. When it seemed that England might squander the ripping start to their innings by Cook and Ian Bell, he nervelessly seized the initiative in the final few overs. His hitting was clean and precise and while there was only one of his scoop shots, he conveyed the impression that there were plenty of other bright, attacking strokes in his locker should he wish to take them out.
While it looked as though England’s score should be enough after being put in by an Australian team missing five first-choice players, that had also been true of their 300 in Brisbane. As long as Aaron Finch was at the crease, Australia were in the hunt.
Finch made his second hundred of the series, 108 from 111 balls, but could not find durable enough support from any of his colleagues. England’s seamers, by and large, found the right line for the first time in months.
Chris Jordan returned well after a moderate start, Tim Bresnan was on the button at last, Stuart Broad was something like his old self and Stokes was ferocious in bursts. Two dropped catches – Gary Ballance followed Stokes – detracted from an improved fielding performance. On this occasion they did not matter; usually they will.
But a win, as they say, is a win – and it has been too long since England could say it.
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