England star Joe Root hails impact of special talent Ben Stokes after return from exile

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Ben Stokes has been immediately influential upon his return.

Ben Stokes‘ near instant return to match-winning form for England is further evidence to Joe Root what a talent he is.

It took Stokes just one ‘warm-up’ – in which he almost dragged the tourists into contention in the first one-day international – before he delivered a man-of-the-match performance at Mount Maunganui to level the series against New Zealand.

After five months in exile, it is hard to envisage any but the very best so close to the peak of their skills so quickly.

But Stokes marked himself out on Wednesday when he sealed the deal for England with an unbeaten top-score of 63 to add to two wickets and two run-outs.

Until this week, the 26-year-old had played no international cricket since September 24 following his arrest outside a Bristol nightclub which ruled him out of the Ashes as he and England waited to discover if there would be criminal charges.

Only after Stokes pleaded not guilty to affray at Bristol Magistrates Court last month was it announced he could rejoin his team-mates in New Zealand.

Such is his standing as a world-class all-rounder, few can have been surprised he has excelled already on his return.

“It’s testament to just how good a player he actually is,” said Root, Test captain and lynchpin batsman across the formats.

“To have such a period out of the game and come straight back and perform how he has shows the skill level of the individual really. I’ve always said he’s such an integral part of this team in all formats. He proved that last night – in all three disciplines he was outstanding.”

England appear to have an extra edge over the opposition whenever Stokes is involved.

Root added: “He set the standard, took vital wickets, run-outs and then obviously knocked the runs off so convincingly. It’s just great to see him get back so quickly as well.”

Root led England to a 4-0 Ashes defeat in Stokes’ absence for so much of the winter.

It gradually became evident the brilliant all-rounder would not be back to face Australia, but Root kept faith Stokes may return against his native New Zealand.

“I was always definitely hopeful,” he said.

“I think most important is the fact that now he is back – for him, I’m sure – to get a good start under his belt will give him a lot of confidence.

“It’s about moving forward now, and I think he’s done that brilliantly.

“He always gives everything on the field, and last night was just another example of that.”

New Zealand captain Kane Williamson and his fellow key batsman Ross Taylor remain fitness doubts for Saturday’s third ODI in Wellington.

Williamson had to miss the second match of five with a mild hamstring strain, while Taylor did not field at Mount Maunganui and has since had a scan on his quadriceps which has shown no serious damage.

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David Warner, Steve Smith hit 50s in attritional Day 1 of first Test against South Africa

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Steve Smith and David Warner led Australia's resistance.

David Warner and Steve Smith hit half-centuries but Australia were unable to dominate South Africa’s bowling attack on the first day of the first Test at Kingsmead on Thursday.

Australia, who won the toss and batted on an easy-paced pitch, were 225 for five when bad light ended play four overs before the second new ball was due.

With no assistance for the bowlers from a slow surface, South Africa bowled with discipline to keep the batsmen in check.

Apart from a bright third-wicket partnership of 56 off 92 balls between Warner (51) and Smith (56), it was largely attritional cricket between the second and third-ranked teams in Test cricket.

Vernon Philander bowled with excellent control to take two for 36, while left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj took two for 69.

It was an indication of the slowness of the pitch that Maharaj bowled 24 of the 76 overs sent down in the day.

Smith made his fifth consecutive score of 50 or more as he continued the form he showed in the Ashes series against England in which he scored 687 runs at an average of 137.40.

The Australian captain gave a half-chance on 47 when AB De Villiers at second slip could not hold a sharp, low catch to his left off Philander. He faced 114 balls and hit 11 fours in his innings.

He had made 24 off 44 balls in his partnership with Warner, who was caught at second slip off the last ball before lunch, but was restricted after the interval as the South African bowlers worked hard to force him to play on the off side instead of his favoured leg side.

Smith showed some signs of frustration before he cut a ball from Maharaj which bounced off wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock’s gloves to De Villiers at slip.

Maharaj struck again when he switched ends after tea and with his fourth ball of a new spell had Shaun Marsh caught at slip for a patient 40.

Marsh had a let-off on 19 when a yorker from Kagiso Rabada struck him low down and would have hit his leg stump, according to television replays. Umpire Kumar Dharmasena gave him not out.

South Africa had used up both of their reviews — also involving leg before wicket decisions by Dharmasena — and could not challenge.

South African hopes of pressing home their advantage were foiled by Mitchell Marsh and Tim Paine, who added an unbeaten 48 before the umpires took the players off the field.

The home side claimed two early wickets, having Cameron Bancroft and Usman Khawaja caught behind, but Warner and Smith batted brightly before Philander came back into the attack just prior to lunch and had Warner caught by De Villiers at second slip.

Warner faced 79 balls and hit six fours.

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Virat Kohli and the 10 most popular athletes on social media

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Kohli counts amongst the most popular athletes globally.

Social media has started playing a huge role in expanding any athlete’s brand in modern times. The top sportspersons in the world have all taken to some form of social media, be it Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, to reach out to their respective fan bases.

Here, we look at the 10 most followed sportspersons on the three most prominent social media platforms.

CRISTIANO RONALDO

Instagram – 121 million

Facebook – 122 million

Twitter – 70 million

The Real Madrid and Portugal superstar remains the most widely followed athlete on social media, dwarfing all competition by a country mile. The five-time FIFA Ballon d’Or winner’s continued success at the top has contributed largely to his massive following and he, along with Lionel Messi, remains the face of the most popular sport in the world.

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NEYMAR JR.

Instagram – 90 million

Facebook – 60 million

Twitter – 38 million

The Brazilian prodigy had always been a star attraction during his time at Barcelona. His record move to Paris Saint-Germain in the previous summer has only increased his social media imprint, so much so that he is now the second most popular sportsperson.  Neymar remains poised to take over the mantle of the world’s best footballer from Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi and expect his social media following to only increase.

Paris Saint-Germain's Brazilian forward Neymar Jr warms up prior to the French L1 football match between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and Marseille (OM) at the Parc des Princes in Paris on February 25, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / GERARD JULIEN (Photo credit should read GERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images)

LEBRON JAMES

Instagram – 35 million

Facebook – 23 million

Twitter – 40 million

James is flying the NBA flag high in this list with his humongous following. The Cleveland Cavaliers star and four-time NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP) remains one of the most recognisable names in basketball and it is no surprise to see him feature at the upper-half of the list.

NBA All-Star Game 2018

LIONEL MESSI

Instagram – 87 million

Facebook – Not on platform

Twitter – Not on platform

The Barcelona and Argentine magician features at the fourth spot only due to his reluctance to join the Twitter and Facebook bandwagon. His Instagram following remains second only to Ronaldo’s. He will be the face of Barcelona for some time to come and remains arguably, the best player to have graced the world of football.

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JAMES RODRIGUEZ

Instagram – 35 million

Facebook – 32 million

Twitter – 16 million

The Colombian footballer has always done well when it comes to social media following. He remains one the biggest names to emerge from his country and his move to Real Madrid helped cement that legacy.

Now plying his trade with Bundesliga behemoths Bayern Munich, James is the third most popular South American footballer on the list.

Bayern Muenchen v Besiktas - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: First Leg

VIRAT KOHLI

Instagram – 19 million

Facebook – 37 million

Twitter – 24 million

The India skipper has been rapidly climbing on this list and has now overtaken Sachin Tendulkar to become the most followed cricketer on social media. At the pinnacle of his game, Kohli is redefining cricket stardom with his ultra-loyal set of supporters and with the backing of the second most populous country in the world, this star is only going to get bigger with coming times.

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GARETH BALE

Instagram – 32 million

Facebook – 28 million

Twitter – 16 million

The Welsh and Real Madrid winger’s popularity on social media is nothing to be scoffed at. His move to Real Madrid from Tottenham has seen him lift three UEFA Champions League titles among countless other trophies. He remains the most widely followed British sportsperson, even ahead of the likes of Wayne Rooney.

Real Madrid v Deportivo Alaves - La Liga

ANDRES INIESTA

Instagram – 21 million

Facebook – 26 million

Twitter – 21 million

The Barcelona midfield wizard might be approaching the twilight of his career but his social media following remains top notch. The four times winner of the UEFA Champions League and World Cup winner with Spain is one of the most revered footballers on the planet and will continue to do so in the future.

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MESUT OZIL

Instagram – 31 million

Facebook – 15 million

Twitter – 21 million

The German midfielder retains a loyal following from his trophy-laden days at Real Madrid and his move to Arsenal has only helped increase that popularity. The World Cup winner with Germany is the highest ranked Premier League player on the list.

Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal - Premier League

WAYNE ROONEY

Instagram – 12 million

Facebook – 24 million

Twitter – 17 million

Rooney might be in decline and back to his boyhood club Everton, but that does not stop England and Manchester United’s top-scorer to feature on the list. Having remained synonymous with Manchester United for over a decade, Rooney has always been the most recognisable names from England and he still remains a hugely followed figure in Asia.

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