MANCHESTER: England’s Ben Stokes plays a shot as West Indies’ Shane Dowrich (R) keeps wicket during play on the second day of the second Test cricket match between England and the West Indies at Old Trafford in Manchester, north-west England on July 17, 2020. — AFP

MANCHESTER: Ben Stokes said he was now more than just a purely instinctive cricketer after the all-rounder’s latest superb century left England strongly-placed in the second Test against the West Indies.

Stokes top-scored with 176 in England’s first innings 469-9 declared, before the West Indies reached 32-1 at the close of Friday’s second day at Old Trafford. This was the second-highest of Stokes’s 10 Test hundreds, behind his blistering 258 against South Africa at Cape Town in 2016. But, more significantly, it was also his fourth Test century since the start of 2019, during which time the left-hander has averaged over 52 — the sign of a world-class batsman.

As was the case with his stunning 135 not out during a remarkable one-wicket win in the third Ashes Test against Australia at Headingley last year, Stokes had the discipline to play himself in against accurate bowling before picking the right moment to up the tempo.

He found a fine ally on Friday in Dom Sibley, the opener’s 120 his first Test century in England. But with Sibley batting sedately — his hundred took the best part of eight hours — there was a danger of England getting bogged down in a match they need to win to level the three-Test series at 1-1.

Stokes, however, ensured that did not happen. Having gone to a hundred in, by his standards, a restrained 255 balls, Stokes needed a mere 46 more for the third fifty of his innings as he punished a new ball being deployed by a tiring West Indies pace attack.

It was a sublime mixture of both skill and match awareness, the latest Stokes has displayed since being acquitted of an affray charge in 2018 after an incident outside a nightclub that saw him miss an Ashes tour and threatened to end his England career completely.

Stokes, who last week deputised as captain for Joe Root after England’s regular skipper missed a four-wicket loss to the West Indies following the birth of his second child, was once more proving himself to be a leader even if he was now back among the ranks.

‘UNDERSTAND MY GAME’

“Numbers, figures…I don’t really care,” said Stokes, who shared a fourth-wicket stand of 260 with Sibley that rescued England from a top-order collapse. “The main number for me is how many wins,” he said.

“I was more buzzing that I faced 300 balls than I was when I got to my hundred, that’s something I never thought I’d be capable of doing.” The 29-year-old Stokes, now in his 65th Test, added: “Being an instinctive player is great but there’s time in the past where I’ve let how I’m playing at the time affect me, thinking I can play some big shots and I’d be alright. “I feel at an age and an experience level where I really understand my game pretty much all the time and I try not to get carried away.”  — AFP

Meanwhile Stokes also demonstrated a degree of empathy for the plight of Jofra Archer. The England fast bowler was dramatically ruled out of this match after it emerged he had broken the bio-secure regulations governing this behind closed doors series by making an unauthorised trip home to Brighton following the end of the first Test.

England had wanted to play the express quick in Manchester and his lapse left many within the hosts’ camp feeling frustrated. Archer is currently self-isolating in his hotel room at Old Trafford but Stokes said: “We really need to be there to support Jofra right now.

“The worst thing we could do right now as a team is just leave him and see him in five or six days time.” He added: “It’s all good being there for people when things are going well and smoothly but what really comes through is how you operate with someone when they need you the most.” — AFP