Ben Stokes has described England’s potential in Twenty20 cricket as “scary” and, while wary of sounding cocky, fancies they are reaching the stage where they can take down any team in the world.
As the heartbeat of the dressing room, Stokes is always a useful barometer of confidence levels. After the 3-0 series win in South Africa these appear to be soaring, much like the 94-metre straight six that Dawid Malan launched off Lungi Ngidi while plundering Tuesday night’s unbeaten 99 from only 47 balls.
“It’s a scary thing to think about where this team could go when we’ve played some games together,” said Stokes, acknowledging the series was a rare chance in a packed schedule that Eoin Morgan could call on a full-strength squad.
“We’re very confident in our ability as a side and what we’ve always done is focus on ourselves. We look at the other team – their strengths and weaknesses – but what we do well is concentrate on ourselves and put pressure on ourselves.
“We know if we play our best game of cricket we can beat most teams which isn’t an arrogant thing to say, it’s where we’re at. We know how strong this team is and it’s really exciting to be a part of it.”
Perhaps the greatest leap during the series was taken by Malan, whose back-to-back man of the match awards extended his lead at the top of the T20 batting rankings and saw him become the first player to break 900 points (he now has 915).
Previously something of an outsider, the left-hander has now been dubbed “the Milky Way Boss” by his teammates. It follows the England analyst Nathan Leamon pointing out that his 10 scores north of 50 in his first 19 T20 innings beat the 25 it took the previous record holder – and self-styled “Universe Boss” – Chris Gayle.
“His contribution with the bat in the games he’s played has been phenomenal,” Stokes said. “As the series got deeper we really showed what we are about and it’s great to see some guys playing so freely in a short space of time. It’s amazing to see where this team can go when we get it together.”
With Morgan’s side having also moved to the top of the T20 rankings a year out from the World Cup in India, Stokes sees clear similarities with the 50-over side that rose to No 1 in 2018 before going on to lift the trophy 12 months later.
In typically blunt fashion the all-rounder said it would be “pretty pointless turning up” if England did not believe that next year could culminate in them winning a second piece of white-ball silverware and then the away Ashes series that follows.
Achieving these lofty goals will ask much of the multi-format cricketers, not least a multi-format all-rounder such as Stokes. Along with Jofra Archer and Sam Curran, the 29-year-old will now leave the tour to rest at home during the forthcoming ODI series.
Stokes added: “I don’t have the mental capability to look that far ahead or I’ll give myself a headache. I just take things as they come. Playing a part in all three formats you’ve got to stay in the moment. There’s a massive year coming up again and hopefully I’ll be able to play a full part in it. That’s the big challenge, just making sure we stay fit, especially throughout the lockdown and quarantine periods we have to go through now.”
Stokes actually departs with a minor injury after slicing his right hand on the LED perimeter advertising boards while trying to stop a four. As a result, the boundary rope will be brought in before Friday’s return to Newlands for the first ODI.
England approached the ICC match referee Andy Pycroft about the issue, with the regulations stating there should be a minimum 2.74m gap beyond the rope “before the first solid object” in order to minimise injuries and encourage dynamic fielding in the deep.