When England are in trouble, whom do they call? Ben Stokes. He’s the Superman of English cricket. Yes, he is. A World Cup winner in two white-ball formats, Stokes played the winning hand for England in both finals.
The allrounder steered England to the 2019 ODI World Cup; remember that dive to the crease in the final minutes of the Lord’s final against New Zealand. And he showed up at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Sunday to help England lift the T20 World Cup.
The final against Pakistan wasn’t easy, and England’s chase was faltering. But so long as Stokes was at the crease, an England victory was never in doubt.
No England batter plays the situation like he does. Stokes has mastered the art of riding out the storm before the final assault. That’s precisely what he did at the MCG.
Chasing a modest target of 138, England ran into the fiery pace of the Pakistan pacers. The early departure of Alex Hales and Phil Salt ratcheted up the pressure, and when captain Jos Buttler fell, the game was evenly poised. But England took confidence from Stokes’s presence in the middle.
The left-hander wasn’t middling the ball well, so he pushed for singles and twos, and a 39-run stand with a struggling Harry Brook helped calm the England innings. Moeen Ali added 47 with Stokes to steer England closer to the target.
Stokes still wasn’t prepared to go for the kill. He knew the value of his wicket to the opposition: it would have shifted the momentum to Pakistan. Stokes simply wouldn’t allow that. He knew well that England’s deep batting could wilt under pressure, especially since Naseem Shah and Haris Rauf were cranking up the pace.
When Shaheen Shah Afridi hobbled off with a leg injury in the 16th over, Stokes knew the time had come. It looked as if he moved up the slog by an over. His first shot off part-time off-spinner Iftikhar Ahmed didn’t connect well, but the next two did: a four and a six materialised. And the game swung England’s way.
From then, there was only one winner. The pressure had eased. Stokes ensured that.
Stokes and the ghosts of 2016
The unbeaten 49-ball 52 — Stokes’s first half-century in T20 Internationals — must have been cathartic for him. It would finally slay the demons of 2016 when Carlos Brathwaite clobbered Stokes for four sixes in a row for a West Indian triumph.
That hurt, and it continued to hurt. Stokes was forever reminded of his inability to defend 19 runs in the final over.
The wound was healed in Melbourne on Sunday. England have become the only team to hold the 50-over World Cup and the 20-over World Cup simultaneously. Stokes was the architect of both triumphs.
What a champion cricketer!