Ben Stokes kept his composure after being asked to resume his innings in unusual circumstances during day one of the third Test against the West Indies.
England, who have already surrendered the series after back-to-back defeats, were on course for another bad day when Stokes arrived at the crease with the score at 107 for four in St Lucia.
He went on to make 62 not out, with Jos Buttler unbeaten on 67, as a defiant and unbroken fifth-wicket stand of 124 left the tourists with considerably brighter prospects of salvaging some pride.
But the all-rounder had to cope with the disorientating experience of being sent to the pavilion after Alzarri Joseph completed a sharp caught-and-bowled, then recalled to the middle once replays showed the seamer over-stepping.
“I was just sat in my chair and when I heard the shouting I thought someone had got out. It was a good job I didn’t take my pads off,” he said with a smile.
“I just heard people shouting ‘no ball’. It’s a first for me and it’s probably something they need to get control of.
“In international cricket you shouldn’t be walking off, getting into the changing rooms, and then back out there two minutes later. Thank God for technology.
“I had to get myself back into that frame of mind. I could have seen the funny side of it but I also said to myself not to look at it as a big opportunity, just try to let it go and make sure I was not out at the end of the day.”
Stokes might have been in light-hearted mood at the close but he did plenty of serious work to push England to 231 for four, their best position of an otherwise miserable series.
He had not even been certain to play 24 hours earlier, after suffering a badly bruised heel, but it always seemed a long shot that the tireless all-rounder would be kept off the field.
“There were a couple of times when I felt it out there, turning and stuff, but when is a sportsmen ever fully fit? We never are,” he said.
Stokes has been going through an indifferent period of form with the bat, having scored his last century in August 2017 and lost some of his freewheeling style in pursuit of a more compact game.
There were signs of the old Stokes strokeplay at the Daren Sammy Stadium and he revealed that was down to a rewatch of his 85-ball hundred against New Zealand at Lord’s four years ago – the fastest ever ton at the home of cricket.
“I thought I was a bit stuck over the last couple of months but watching myself at Lord’s this morning did me the world of good,” he said.
“I actually got our analyst to get up the game against New Zealand. I’ve been working with Ramps (batting coach Mark Ramprakash) to go back to a technique similar to that. I think in the back of my mind, watching myself do well with a certain technique I could just take that with me.
“It worked well. I’ve said before that would be the catalyst if I was ever not doing so well.”
England have decided to recall Keaton Jennings in place of dropped wicketkeeper Ben Foakes while including injury doubt Ben Stokes in a 12-man squad for the final Test against the West Indies.
Jennings was axed for last week’s 10-wicket defeat in Antigua but will return at the first time of asking, leaving Foakes in the cold and Jonny Bairstow to reclaim the gloves.
Foakes had been struggling with a bruised hand but was passed fit for the match at St Lucia’s Daren Sammy Stadium.
Stokes has been suffering from a bruised right heel but trained with the team on the eve of the Test and will be assessed before a final decision is made on his involvement in the morning. If England decide not to risk the all-rounder Sam Curran will keep his place, with paceman Mark Wood set to play regardless.
England’s selection over the course of the series has betrayed muddled thinking, with the U-turn on Jennings and the seemingly harsh treatment of Foakes merely the latest example.
Stuart Broad was left out of the opener in Bridgetown, a pitch seemingly made for his style of bowling, Joe Denly was installed as an opener last week despite not having done the job at county level since 2015, Adil Rashid played the first Test and was then allowed to return home as surplus to requirements while Chris Woakes has travelled without being fit for any of the three Tests and Wood was not even part of the initial touring party.
Foakes’ ousting is a particularly eye-catching decision. He scored a fine century in his maiden Test innings in Galle, having come into the side as an injury replacement for Bairstow, and finished as man of the series in the 3-0 whitewash against Sri Lanka.
He has been less guilty of poor strokeplay than most of the top seven since landing in the Caribbean and, with a batting average of 41.50 from his first 10 innings, might wonder quite what he has done wrong.
The decision to go back to Jennings, who has had all of two net sessions since being removed for the second time in his England career, probably lies in his eagerness to bat at the top of the order.
Too many of England’s impressive strokeplayers are best suited to lower middle-order roles, artificially promoted by necessity rather than aptitude.
Bairstow, having regained the wicketkeeping role he treasures, has filled in there for the last three matches but will now drop back to six or seven.
As for Stokes, England will need to balance their reliance on him as an all-action cricketer – able to bat in the top five, bowl quickly and tirelessly and field brilliantly – with a duty of care.
With a World Cup and an Ashes series still to come in 2019, pushing him to the limit in the last match of a surrendered series might not be the pragmatic solution.
“He’s an integral part of all three formats and has been for some time now. He gives you great balance across the board,” said captain Joe Root.
“As we’ve seen in the recent past when he’s not been around it can make a huge difference. Of course we want Ben fit and firing and ready to go as many times as possible. But it’s so important he is able to do his job properly.”
Root suggested the 77 overs Stokes has sent down in the first two Tests were the reason for his current predicament but did not dismiss suggestions he had stood on a rock during a fitness session on the beach.
“Whether it was before that or during that I’m not really sure to be honest,” said Root.
“It’s down to a huge amount of workload over the first two Tests. He woke up sore with his heel. We’ll see how he pulls up.”
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England spinner Jack Leach believes county cricket must offer a greater variety of pitches if it wants to breed players capable of succeeding all over the world.
Resounding defeats in the first two Tests against the West Indies have raised renewed questions about England’s red ball team, and specifically their ability to thrive in foreign conditions.
Those concerns were temporarily shelved earlier this winter following a 3-0 victory in Sri Lanka – with Leach’s left-arm spin to the fore – but they are firmly back on the agenda.
Leach plies his trade for Somerset on generous turning decks at Taunton and rates criticism about the amount of spin they take – Middlesex and Lancashire have made their objections clear in recent seasons – as indicative of a wider problem.
Head coach Trevor Bayliss and captain Joe Root were careful not to use the variable bounce at the Sir Vivian Richards’ Stadium as an excuse for last week’s 10-wicket defeat, but both made plain their dissatisfaction at the surface.
“We need to challenge people to be better at cricket rather than complain about pitches. I think the surface at Antigua, we’d have not come up against in county championship. That might not be possible,” said Leach, who has yet to feature in the series.
“For me, we need players to experience different surfaces. It’s important to change attitudes. That would strengthen our international teams in years to come.
“I think there probably isn’t (enough variety in England). We look at spinning pitches negatively but if it’s seaming around we’re not too bothered. That needs to be addressed, how they mark pitches.
“I don’t know if that comes from the top or the counties, but I think it’s a big thing.”
England’s batsmen have been pilloried for lacking patience in the Caribbean, their counter-attacking style coming off badly in comparison to the studied diligence of Kraigg Brathwaite and Darren Bravo.
Leach hints that could also be an ingrained quality, with the prevalence of seam-friendly, green pitches in the domestic game making crease occupation a rare skill.
“There’s very few times where you spend 150 overs in the field and it’s a batting paradise,” he noted.
“So as much as I think spinning pitches are important, I think playing on flat ones is too. You can’t do things you haven’t practised before.”
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