England skipper Eoin Morgan was buoyed by the return of all-rounder Ben Stokes despite his side slipping to a three-wicket defeat in the opening one-day clash against New Zealand in Hamilton.
Stokes, who was playing his first international match since being arrested outside a Bristol nightclub in September, hauled England back into contention with two wickets during his second spell, on his way to figures of 2-43 from eight overs.
But his efforts proved in vain as New Zealand eclipsed England’s score of 284-8 with four balls to spare, thanks largely to Ross Taylor’s 18th one-day international century in a stand of 178 with Tom Latham, who made 79.
Morgan insisted there were positives to take in spite of their defeat, one being Stokes, weeks after his appearance in court on the charge of affray. Morgan said: “I’m really pleased. I thought he adapted to conditions perfectly well, using slower balls well.
“After the first spell, he said he could have bowled longer, but we didn’t really need him at that stage. We needed something to happen, and he’s the kind of player who can make something happen.
“He’s delighted to be back – he’s told everybody that. It’s an awesome feeling, when you’ve been away and you’re back in a fun environment, with lots of good friends around. I can vouch for that.
“I spend a lot of time away while the Tests are on. You come back and it puts a smile on your face.”
Stokes could only muster a rather pedestrian 12 off 22 balls with the bat as the main contributors to the England total were vice-captain Jos Buttler and Joe Root, who amassed 79 and 71 respectively, while opener Jason Roy made 49.
The Black Caps were reeling at 27-3 but their victory march was given a huge shot in the arm by Taylor and Latham, while the equation read 34 runs needed from 18 balls after the former was stumped off the leg-spin of Adil Rashid.
Nine runs were required from the final six deliveries as Mitchell Santner, who finished unbeaten on 45, edged a Chris Woakes yorker for four before smashing a six over mid-wicket after a wide.