Ben Stokes appeared to be taking it all in his stride as he made runs, took wickets and even effected two run-outs in a superlative all-round display here to lift England back into this one-day series almost single-handedly.
Yet underneath it all, in this quiet and picturesque part of the country where he was born, Stokes was absolutely aware of the significance of the winning return he has waited for over five long, controversial months.
‘I was quite emotional walking off there at the end,’ said Stokes after inspiring England to a crushing victory in the second one-day international in the shadow of Mount Maunganui.
Ben Stokes raises his bat after passing fifty during England’s win over New Zealand
Stokes admitted after the game it was a ‘privilege’ to once again be representing his country
‘Even walking on the field for the first game and walking off tonight made me understand how much of a privilege it is to represent your country.
‘It was a different feeling to what it is normally but it was a great feeling.’
The scorebook will record that England coasted home with six wickets and fully 73 balls in hand after restricting New Zealand to a woefully below par 223 all out to level the series after their narrow defeat in Hamilton.
But, really, this was all about Stokes.
It was all about him taking the wickets of Henry Nicholls and Lochie Ferguson, running out Tim Southee and Trent Boult and then smashing an unbeaten 63 to carry England home.
And it was all about the huge difference he brings to this England team and the gaping hole that was left in the side when he was suspended throughout the Ashes while the ECB waited to see whether he would face criminal charges.
Stokes took two wickets and effected two run outs as New Zealand were bowled out for 223
The mere presence of Stokes here while he awaits trial for affray following the fracas in Bristol that turned his and England’s worlds upside down remains contentious but there is no disputing how much it means to him to be here.
‘There was relief and happiness because obviously it’s been a long time,’ said man of the match Stokes, speaking publicly for the first time since that ill-fated night out in Bristol.
‘Hopefully now this is a stepping stone on the road to trying to keep on helping England win games.
‘I’ve been working hard at home making sure that when the opportunity came again to represent England I wasn’t going to let anyone down.
‘When I got the nod to come here I wanted to participate fully rather than be eased back into the team. I wouldn’t expect anything less of myself and I don’t think Eoin Morgan would expect anything less of me either.’
In truth it is as if a lean and fit-looking Stokes has never been away.
There may have been the odd sign of rustiness in Hamilton but here he looked in supreme touch, particularly with the bat, and brought back that character and leadership to their all-round display that is all too often absent whenever he is not around.
This was, indeed, arguably England’s finest all-round fielding performance under a coach in Trevor Bayliss who demands the highest of standards in the field and only ever really becomes exasperated when his side fail to produce them.
Stokes top-scored with 63 from 74 balls to take England home with room to spare
The England all-rounder hit seven fours and a six during the six-wicket victory on Wednesday
‘Sloppy’ fielding in the first one-day international cost them dear but here there was barely a blemish in a display that featured four sharp run-outs and three outstanding catches among the six safely pouched by England.
New Zealand, seeking their 10th successive one-day international victory without injured captain Kane Williamson, did not help themselves with some awful running between the wickets, not least when Colin de Grandhomme attempted a suicidal second and was beaten by Jonny Bairstow’s throw.
That left New Zealand 141 for seven and down and almost out but they were given a scintilla of hope by a spirited ninth wicket stand of 69 between Mitchell Santner, the hero of Hamilton, and Lochie Ferguson that included 19 off a Tom Curran over.
It at least gave the home side respectability.
And when De Grandhomme pulled off a catch to send back Joe Root, the equal if not better anything that England managed in the field, there was a chance England’s house could come crashing down again. Stokes would not allow it.
He could have been run out before he had scored but once New Zealand fumbled that opportunity there was no way back for them, Stokes adding 88 with his captain and then an unbeaten 51 with Jos Buttler as England cantered home.
The highlight was one imperious straight six by Stokes off Trent Boult that re-asserted his authority and told the whole of New Zealand that, as Wayne Rooney once said on his return to the England football team, the big man is back.
‘It was obviously frustrating to watch the Ashes,’ admitted Stokes.
There are plenty of obstacles remaining ahead of Stokes before he can be fully re-integrated
‘I went through all the emotions as I would have done playing but there’s not a lot I can change about that now.
‘The focus was all about playing again this winter and when that chance came around I wasn’t prepared to let anybody down.
‘This was very satisfying but it’s all about what’s coming up now. There’s lots to look forward to moving forward.
‘All the training and hard work that went into that time spent at home paid off today.’
There are plenty of obstacles remaining before Ben Stokes can be fully re-integrated into the England team.
But here in an unassuming and charming part of a country he knows so well, he took the first huge steps.
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