Ben Stokes made just 2 from seven balls, and failed to take a wicket either, as his return to competitive cricket, for Canterbury against Otago, finished in a three-wicket defeat in New Zealand’s 50-over Ford Trophy.
It was a disappointing outing for Stokes, who appeared understandably rusty in his first match since England’s ODI victory over West Indies at Bristol September 24, the match that preceded his arrest outside a nightclub in the city in the small hours of the following morning.
Stokes’ departure for New Zealand last week sent social media into a frenzy, after he was spotted carrying his cricket kit through Heathrow Airport, seemingly headed to link up with England’s Ashes squad.
But, once it was established that he had signed with Canterbury to bring his match fitness back up to speed, the circumstances of his return to action proved to be far more low-key.
Batting first at the Mainpower Oval in Rangiora, one of the more sleepy venues that Stokes has ever encountered during his career, he arrived at the crease with his side already in trouble at 5 for 2 in the third over.
However, on 2, Stokes attempted to play across the line to Otago’s left-arm spinner Anaru Kitchen, and was bowled leg stump to leave his team in even deeper strife at 8 for 3. Kitchen, 33, whose reputation has been built on his batting, had picked up his 20th wicket in 76 List A games.
With the ball, Stokes had two decent lbw shouts and conceded a lucky slash for four over the slips, as his first four-over spell went for 26 runs. However, he later appeared to feel his side after sending down a bouncer, and was subsequently pulled for a decisive six over midwicket, as Canterbury’s late rally was thwarted.
Having made a strong start to their pursuit of 222 with an opening stand of 175, Otago’s middle order collapsed, leaving them on 198 for 7 with six overs remaining.
That equation had been reduced to 13 off four overs when Stokes returned to the attack for his final two overs, but a hooked six from Otago’s No. 9, Jacob Duffy, effectively settled the issue.
Despite his rusty display, Stokes’ wholehearted approach was welcomed by his team-mates.
“Ben was brilliant today,’ Canterbury captain Cole McConchie told The Daily Mail. “He was willing to help out right throughout the day, especially in those crunch moments at the end. He offered us a lot.
“Ben was chomping at the bit to put in a good performance for Canterbury. Obviously it didn’t come off the way he would have liked, but he showed up with a great attitude and gave his whole heart to it.”