Ben Stokes catches England’s imagination as fans rally behind World Cup hosts

Spectators at The Oval rise to acclaim Ben Stokes after his stunning catch to dismiss South Africa's Andile Phehlukwayo. Picture Nigel French/PA
Spectators at The Oval rise to acclaim Ben Stokes after his stunning catch to dismiss South Africa's Andile Phehlukwayo. Picture Nigel French/PA
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Captain Eoin Morgan has credited Ben Stokes with rallying the English nation behind his side’s World Cup cause.

Stokes was the star of the show on day one against South Africa, producing an instant classic catch that was beamed around the globe, as well as making key contributions with bat and ball.

England captain Eoin Morgan speaks to the media at Trent Bridge. Picture: Simon Cooper/PA

England captain Eoin Morgan speaks to the media at Trent Bridge. Picture: Simon Cooper/PA

It was a dream performance for tournament organisers, who are desperate to break beyond the sport’s usual supporter base, and left Morgan in awe of the all-rounder’s ability to excite fans of all ages.

The hosts are on duty again today, taking on Pakistan at Trent Bridge, and Morgan admitted Stokes has set a tone of optimism among the team and its followers.

“Everybody can experience taking a great catch, getting runs or taking wickets, just having one of those days where everything goes right, kids all the way through to grandads,” said Morgan.

“Everyone from five years old to 75 who watched the game the other day can relate. For the sport, it is awesome.

“I think that sets the tournament up really well and obviously lifts the confidence within our camp when Ben’s doing well. I think it gives us a sneak peek into the potential cricket has to grow and the exposure it might have over the next five to six weeks.” Acting as a lightning rod for England’s hopes this summer, as well as inspiring young and old, represents quite a shift from the last time Stokes found himself as high on the news agenda.

Last summer he was cleared on a charge of affray in Bristol Crown Court, following a street brawl in September 2017, but was forced to ponder long and hard on his status as a role model.

“Ben has been unbelievable since the Bristol incident,” Morgan, pictured, told BBC Sport. “His work ethic, his mentality around the changing room and his performance all worked towards what happened the other day – contributing in all three facets of the game: being himself, imposing himself on the game.

“He did it with a great temperament, which is fantastic to see because he is maturing a huge amount as a cricketer.”

England will go in against Pakistan heavily fancied to make it two wins from two, with the circumstances appearing to represent something of a perfect storm.

Not only have they just defeated their opponents 4-0 in a bilateral one-day series, but Pakistan are coming fresh from a hammering at the hands of the West Indies.

Add in the fact that the game takes place in Nottingham, on the same pitch where England have posted the two biggest scores in ODI history over the past three years, and only one result seems likely.

Morgan gave no sense of complacency, though. “We prepare for Pakistan at their best,” he added. “Two years ago they were the best side in the world in the Champions Trophy. They turned us over and they turned India over, so we’ll be preparing as best we can for their ‘A’ game.”

England are giving strong consideration to letting Mark Wood loose in place of Liam Plunkett, with the fast bowler raring to go after sitting out against South Africa.

Wood is one of the quickest bowlers in the world at present and his partnership with Jofra Archer would easily open the wounds in a team who flapped under a series of bouncers from the Caribbean quicks.

“It might happen, if it does that would be awesome,” said Morgan.

“We saw the wicket the other day went through with more pace and exposed Pakistan, more so with the short ball. That might be a trend for the tournament.”

A number of Pakistan batsmen were either troubled or dismissed by short-pitched deliveries as they were blown away for 105 by the Windies pacemen at Trent Bridge on Friday to crumble to a seven-wicket defeat.

The strategy is hardly 
revolutionary at this level but has been cited as a major 
factor for the low scores that have so far defined the opening few matches of the 
tournament.

Pakistan bowling coach Azhar Mahmood insists their batsmen must be prepared after readily admitting the bouncer ploy is likely to be liberally used by their next opponents at the same venue today.

Mahmood, a former stalwart of county cricket at Surrey and Kent, said: “We didn’t handle the short ball really well and we practised a lot, and we know it will come.

“When teams come from the subcontinent, the other teams will use those sort of tactics.

“All the teams will bowl short against us so we are practising, and we’ve done it before, so I think we need to move on and concentrate on the next game.”

Mahmood, who said Asif Ali is in contention to feature for his tournament bow, added: “We can beat them. It would not be an upset. We have ability to beat them.

“If you see the one-day series, we were not that far from England. They scored 1,430-odd runs, we scored 1,370 runs, so we were 70 runs short.”