Former England skipper and renowned pundit Nasser Hussain believes Ben Stokes, who announced his retirement from ODI cricket last year, is the missing piece in England’s World Cup puzzle and is of the opinion that the ECB, in the months to come, should do everything they can to convince the all-rounder to do a u-turn and get back into the 50-over format in time for the World Cup.
Citing workload management, Stokes abruptly — and rather shockingly — retired from ODIs last year but his heroics in the T20 World Cup have made many believe that it would be a travesty if a player of his caliber ends up sitting out the 50-over World Cup.
England’s white-ball coach Matthew Mott, in fact, said in the aftermath of the T20WC triumph that he’ll have a chat with Stokes about un-retiring from 50-over cricket.
Hussain believes Stokes is the ‘final bit of the jigsaw’ due to the experience and calmness he brings to the fore.
"All these bits of the jigsaw have to fit in, he is the final bit because he is that match winner under pressure,” Hussain told Sky.
"Look what India have done, India have gone unbeaten at home for about three years now in white-ball cricket, but in tournament play, at just the wrong time in a knockout game, they can't get over the line.
"England when they get to those crucial moments in any format, there is one individual that stands up. He is the final bit of the jigsaw."
Hussain believes that England will win the home Ashes against Australia, and the perfect time for the ECB to persuade Stokes to return will be in the aftermath of the Ashes, for the prospect of a hat-trick — T20WC, Ashes and ODI WC — will be too good to walk away from.
"I think just after England win the Ashes this summer, I'd be ringing Ben up and saying 'do you fancy making it a World T20 win, an Ashes win and a World Cup win in the space of a year?'," added Hussain.
"When he's absolutely at his highest, loving life and loving the game, 'Ben, do you want to take it one-step further?'.
"We joke but I think deep down he knows he's got that trump card if he needs it.”
Whether it be Stokes, Root, Brook, Archer or Bairstow, England have a plethora of multi-format players that’ll need to be handled carefully in what’s a huge year, with both the Ashes and the 50-over World Cup looming. Hussain believes the ECB have their work cut-out when it comes to managing individuals.
"McCullum and Stokes will be knocking at [ECB managing director] Rob Key's door saying 'I want all the players fit for the Ashes and I want (Jofra) Archer'; Butler and Mott will be knocking at Key's door saying 'I want all the players fit for the World Cup and I want Archer'.
"And in between you've got the IPL as well, so it's managing everyone to make sure the captains and the coaches get what they want.
"It's not an easy thing to do because they're both equally important. The old days of the Ashes being important and the World Cup being an afterthought are gone, they are both equally important and there are a lot of players involved in both formats."
Mike Atherton, meanwhile, believes that Stoke cannot be ‘convinced’ to unretire from ODIs. The all-rounder, Atherton feels, will make the call himself if he feels it’s the right thing to do.
"He's going to ring," Atherton said.
"What did he do when he wanted the vice-captaincy? He rang Tom Harrison sitting in his garage one day and said 'I want to be vice-captain again'.
"When Joe (Root) finally stepped down he rang Rob Key and said 'I want to be captain'. If he's going to come back he'll make the decision and he'll ring them and say 'I'm unretired'."