Ben Stokes: Brilliant century helps England 'reconnect' with fans

By Jonathan AgnewBBC cricket correspondent
Ben Stokes
Ben Stokes's century was the fastest in a Test at Lord's and the second quickest in history by an Englishman
First Test: England v New Zealand
Venue: Lord's. Dates: 21-25 May. Start time: 11:00 BST. Coverage: Ball-by-ball Test Match Special commentary on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra, Radio 4 LW, online, tablets, mobiles, BBC Sport app & BBC iPlayer Radio app; live text commentary on BBC Sport website & mobile devices

For some time we have heard of England's need to reconnect with their fans, to make the public care about them.

On the fourth day of the first Test against New Zealand at Lord's, the brilliant Ben Stokes delivered exactly the sort of performance required to do that.

His dazzling century, allied to the day-long effort of Alastair Cook in making 153 not out, took England to 429-6 in their second innings, a lead of 295.

We know what Stokes is capable of, not least because of the brave hundred he made against Australia in Perth at the end of 2013.

But the way he batted here was entirely different. His 85-ball ton was the fastest in a Test at Lord's, which is astonishing when you consider how many matches and innings have been played at the famous ground.

It was a performance for which caretaker coach Paul Farbrace must take a lot of credit. Farbrace promoted Stokes back to number six in the order and, in any job, when you hand out a promotion, you want to see a positive response.

Ex-England captain Michael Vaughan on Test Match Special
"The whole game has been tremendous for Test cricket. The cricket over the last four days has been fantastic to watch but Ben Stokes has surpassed that. They were dancing in the stands."

Stokes delivered. Across both innings in this match, the Durham all-rounder has scored 193 runs from 186 balls with 30 fours and four sixes. It is ground-breaking stuff.

The last time I saw an England batsman dismantle an attack like that was Kevin Pietersen against South Africa at Headingley in 2012. It was brilliantly exciting, pulsating entertainment that has given the home side a chance of winning this match.

He was able to play in that manner because of the excellent work done by Cook, who played as well as I have seen for a long time, even considering he scored a hundred in his last Test.

Cook began his work on the third evening and I saw his wife Alice at the Grace Gates as I left the ground on Saturday. I told her then how well her husband had played.

On Sunday he continued on to produce a top-of-the-range, classy innings, one made under immense pressure, especially given the early loss of Ian Bell.

I have always thought Cook is at his best when he is getting a big stride towards the ball, playing straight up to mid-off and mid-on. That is exactly what he did on Sunday, not squirting the ball to point as he did when his feet were not moving properly during an 18-month lean spell.

Highest fourth-innings chases in Tests at Lord's
344-1: West Indies v England, 1984
282-3: England v New Zealand, 2004
218-3: England v New Zealand, 1965
193-5: England v West Indies, 2012
191-8: England v West Indies, 2000

Of late, Cook has attracted criticism for all sorts of reasons, but it cannot be denied that his batting is outstanding. Anyone can go through a poor run of form and they should always get credit when they return to their best.

Yes, his captaincy will continue to have its doubters, because he is naturally conservative. Indeed, at some point on Monday we could well be complaining that England have left a declaration for too long.

If and when England do have to consider setting New Zealand a target, their choice is made more difficult by the fact that this is only a two-match series, too short in my opinion.

When there are only two Tests, no side will want to risk losing the first match because if it goes wrong, you cannot win the series.

That these evenly-matched sides have produced such an entertaining Test so far is further evidence that their opportunity to compete against each other should be longer.

Ben Stokes hugs Alastair Cook
Ben Stokes and Alastair Cook shared a stand of 132, with the former contributing 101

As it is, the best chance of us having a result on what could be a thrilling final day would be if England get bowled out on Monday morning, taking any question of a declaration out of the equation.

When England attempt to bowl New Zealand out, the new ball will be important and they will need Moeen Ali to play an important role with his off-spin, especially as this pitch is starting to turn.

Can Moeen both dry up an end and pose a wicket threat? It was a job he failed to do when England were beaten in their previous match by West Indies, so they will want to see an improvement from their frontline spinner.

We hear so much about New Zealand's positive approach to the game, but that will be tested when it comes to the run chase. They will also want to be able to win the series when we begin again at Headingley on Friday.

On a Bank Holiday Monday, it is only £20 to get into the ground, an excellent opportunity for anyone who has never been to Lord's before.

You might just see a brilliant finish to this Test.

Jonathan Agnew was speaking to BBC Sport's Stephan Shemilt.

Top Stories