Stokes rues the ton that got away

In July last year, Stokes continued his miserable run in all formats for England by making nought in each innings of the Lord's Test as Alastair Cook's team lost by 95 runs to go 1-0 down to India.

He was dropped - and, after England fought back to win that series, resumed his Test career only last month against West Indies in Antigua.

The 23-year-old all-rounder was back at HQ for the first Test of England's Ashes summer, responding to his elevation to number six by sharing a crucial 161-run stand with Joe Root as the hosts recovered from 30 for four to reach 354 for seven.

He was not exactly crowing about what a difference the last 10 months have made, though, and was left pondering what might have been after falling eight runs short of a ton when he was bowled shouldering arms to a straight ball from off-spinner Mark Craig.

"I bagged a pair last time I was here, so things couldn't have got any worse really," Stokes said.

"It's always nice to come back to a place where it hasn't gone too well and then put a performance in for the team."

Stokes had returned to the team last year only after missing the early part of the 2014 summer because he broke his wrist punching a locker in frustration after a golden duck in a Twenty20 match against the West Indies in Bridgetown.

He is a more mature cricketer, and person, these days.

"Punching the locker was a stupid moment and something, I hope, I'll never do again - because lockers are generally harder than bones and wrists," Stokes said, with a rueful smile.

He could afford that much after making 92 - Root got even closer to his century with 98 - to bail out England.

The fifth-wicket pair counter-attacked, Stokes sticking to his adventurous instincts after caretaker coach Paul Farbrace told him to.

He said: "Farby said today, 'Do what you do - everyone backs you in the changing room - so don't change anything just because you are in the Three Lions'."

It so nearly resulted in a century, and Stokes was disgusted with himself at passing up that opportunity.

Asked to recall his reaction, he said: "I'm not sure I can say without using swear words.

"It was obviously disappointing to get out so close to a hundred at Lord's.

"But the bigger picture is we're in a really good position now.

"We hope (on Friday) Mo (Moeen Ali) can bat quite long with the tail, and they can stick around for him."

Kiwi debutant seamer Matt Henry took three wickets on his first day of Test cricket, but concedes the tourists lost their way a little against Root and Stokes.

"We let them off the hook a bit," Henry said. "We got a little bit two sides of the wicket.

"The way we started was great. We asked some good questions, but then England fought back very well.

"We've some things we'd like to have done a little better today.

"As a whole we asked some good questions, (but) one ball an over gave them a chance, and they took it."

It is England's advantage then, despite the loss of Jos Buttler to the last ball before stumps for 67 to Trent Boult.

Stokes is most pleased that he backed himself, and it came off, although he knows it will not always be so.

"Everything went well," he said. "Luckily it paid off today, but another day I could have looked like a wally and 'nicked off' for 20 - good job I didn't."

  Ben Stokes is back on song for England
Ben Stokes is back on song for England