Birmingham: It may not have been the most profound piece of batting advice Steve Smith has ever given when he told Ben Stokes during the Indian Premier League that he was “losing his backside a bit”.
But the Australia captain could have been forgiven for wondering why he’d said anything at all as England all-rounder Stokes’s blistering unbeaten century condemned Smith’s men to an early Champions Trophy exit at Edgbaston on Saturday.
Stokes played under Smith’s captaincy for the Rising Pune Supergiant during this year’s edition of the lucrative Twenty20 IPL franchise tournament.
Asked after Saturday’s match what tip Smith had passed on, Stokes told reporters: “He just gave a little tip out in India, something on my technique, something that he felt he could help me with.”
Pressed to reveal the nugget of information, Stokes added: “Just that I was losing my backside a bit when I was hitting.”
Stokes certainly didn’t ‘lose’ much at the crease either in the IPL or during Saturday’s clash in Birmingham.
Paid a record $2.16 million to play the eight-week IPL season, Stokes was instrumental to Pune reaching the knockout phase after a brilliant debut campaign.
The 26-year-old left-handed batsman and right-handed pace bowler scored 316 runs in 12 matches, with a highest of 103 not out, and took 12 wickets before a recall to England squad duty stopped him featuring in the play-offs.
There was nothing much wrong with Stokes’s shot-making on Saturday either as he powered his way to a 108-ball century including 13 fours and two sixes — his second hundred in three one-day international innings.
In a match they needed to win to join already qualified old foes England in the semi-finals, Australia were held to a below par total of 277 for nine.
Even so they were right back in the game after reducing England to 35 for three only for Stokes, with an ODI best 102 not out, and skipper Eoin Morgan (87) to share a fourth-wicket stand of 159.
When rain forced an early finish, England were 240 for four off 40.2 overs and won by 40 runs under the Duckworth-Lewis method.
– Kohli praise –
Stokes’s innings was widely praised, with India captain Virat Kohli, like Smith one of the world’s leading batsmen, tweeting that the England star’s flicked four off Australia fast bowler Pat Cummins was “ridiculous” and “one of the best shots I’ve seen for a while!”
But Durham star Stokes was determined to stay grounded.
“I never feel I get too high and I never feel I get too low about things,” he said.
“I’m always looking to learn and am never happy with how I am going.
“I think once you get comfortable with what you’re offering it is dangerous territory to be in.”
As well as gettings tips from Smith, Stokes said playing in the IPL had helped develop his ability to play well under pressure.
“The whole thing with the IPL is the exposure you get to big moments in games, playing in front of a huge crowd all the time,” he explained.
“You get exposed to those situations more.”
As a result, Stokes felt able to cope with England’s dire position on Saturday.
“At 35 for three, you can just mentally look back to a time in the past and reflect, knowing you’ve been in that situation before and done well,” he said.
As happened when overseas stars became a feature of English county cricket in the 1970s, advice given at IPL level has the ability to rebound on the provider when he and his team-mate become international opponents.
Smith, however, played down his role in Stokes’s rise by saying: “I always thought he was a good player.
“I think he’s probably developed some smarts and, you know, timing of his innings and things like that.
“He played a fantastic innings, really took the game on, and was hard to stop,” Smith added.