Shakib’s shot ‘bit of a shock’ – Stokes
Ben Stokes hailed the “most mature” performance of his career to date after saving England from a precarious position against Bangladesh in Chittagong.
Coming to the crease with his side in trouble and the ball spinning sharply, Stokes responded with a mature innings of 85 to help England establish a lead of 273 with two wickets in hand going into the fourth day. On a pitch that continues to provide assistance to spin bowlers, that may already prove a decisive advantage.
While Stokes’ innings lacked, for the most part, the fireworks of some of his previous Test performances, it was played in unusually demanding circumstances. In ferociously hot and humid conditions and with his colleagues struggling to negate the turning ball, Stokes showed that he had matured significantly as a batsman.
Instead of being content with “batting for 20 minutes and then losing concentration” he defended skilfully, rotated the strike and provided the substantial contribution his side required. It is currently the only half-century in the England innings and the highest score of the match.
“That was definitely my most mature performance with the bat in Test cricket,” Stokes said. “They were probably the toughest conditions I’ve had so far in international cricket – especially going in with all the men around the bat and the ball spinning as much as it was.
“My defensive game against spin has gone up another level. That’s from working hard. I’m making sure I don’t fall into the trap of batting for 20 minutes and then losing concentration on what I’m actually trying to do.
“We can all hit boundaries, but the hardest thing to do is defend when you first come in. I didn’t want to give my wicket away and made sure if I was going to get out it was going to take a good ball.
“I knew that if we kept rotating the strike the game was going to get easier. There was so much time left in the game that it was just a matter of occupying the crease, rotating the strike and putting the bad balls away. The guys around the bat would soon disappear.
“The longer you spend on wickets like that, the easier it becomes. If we can get through the tough periods – and there are going to be plenty here and in India – then the easier it’s going to get. I tried to put the foot on the gas towards the end to try and get the lead up as high as we could but I’m happy with how it went.”
Stokes had already produced an outstanding spell of bowling to polish off the Bangladesh innings. Gaining pace, bounce and reverse-swing that has been absent for every other bowler in the match, Stokes bowled six overs on the trot at the start of the morning session – an outstanding effort in such uncomfortable heat – claiming three wickets for nine runs.
While other seamers could barely get the ball about hip height or move it off the straight, he struck batsmen on the helmet and nipped the ball both ways. That brought him 4 for 10 in a 10-over spell continued from the previous day that saw Bangladesh collapse from 221 for 4 to 248 all out.
Afterwards he credited Joe Root, in particular, for looking after the ball and ensuring it was in a condition where it would reverse.
“Reverse swing is a massive weapon for us in the sub-continent,” Stokes said. “It can be quite tough to control how much the ball is going to swing. But we’ve been working a lot on reverse. We were very critical about keeping the ball in good nick. Joe Root has been non-stop in keeping the smooth side smooth and shiny and making sure the other side is as dry as possible.
“It’s tough to tell the spinners to keep their hands off with the amount of bowling they are doing, but they did a really good job.
“It’s actually very tough to maintain the ball because one little bit of moisture on the side that we keep dry can almost put you back two overs to where you started off. We all know that and we try to keep as few hands on the ball as possible. We did that and that’s how we managed to get as much sideways movement as we did with the old ball.”
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
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