MELBOURNE: Ben Stokes has been the beating heart of England’s white-ball revolution but it wasn’t that way six years ago at the Eden Garden, in another T20 World Cup final.
When Stokes gets a moment alone with himself after England’s promised ‘wild celebrations’ on Sunday night, his thoughts will no doubt take him to a name people still remember: Carlos Brathwaite.
That time, it wasn’t Stokes’s day. He had the ball in hand in the last over, with West Indies needing an improbable 19 off six. Brathwaite hit Stokes for four consecutive sixes to seal the deal, the lowest point in the career of one of England’s post-modern cricketing giants.
Stokes, arguably, bowled poorly that night, ostensibly because the occasion got to him, starting out with a half volley on leg stump. By the end of the onslaught he looked dazed and shell-shocked.
That shellacking, however, spurred him on to greater heights, and now he has fashioned two of England’s biggest white-ball World Cup triumphs with the bat instead: the 2019 ODI World Cup final against New Zealand at Lord’s and Sunday’s torrid affair at the MCG, where he stood firm to score 52 not out in a small chase made difficult by Pakistan‘s pace battery.
In guiding England home, Stokes showed he is now the cricketing world’s greatest champion under pressure. And oh, he bowled the opening over against Pakistan on Sunday, not at the death!
His captain Jos Buttler, who now has shown with this win that he is his own man and not someone merely following the Eoin Morgan template, had high praise for Stokes.
“He’s a true match-winner, and he has been in these scenarios time and time again. He just has a lot of know-how for how to do that. He probably didn’t time the ball as well as he can, but you knew he was going to stand up and be there at the end,” Buttler said. Eoin Morgan had called Stokes “superhuman” after the 2019 win, but Buttler was more measured. “We are immensely lucky to have him, and he’s one of the great players of English cricket.”
Ben Stokes steers England to second T20 World Cup title
Buttler had a wry smile on his face when talk of 2016 and the Eden Gardens came up. “Yeah, it’s an amazing story, isn’t it,” he said.
“Shame he did his documentary a year early! He’s been on an amazing journey. I’ll always remember his words to Jofra (Archer) about how things don’t define you. He’s obviously never let that 2016 final push him back. What he’s gone on to achieve in his career since then is just amazing. He always stands up in the biggest moments. He can take a lot of pressure on his shoulders now. With him in the middle, you know you have a good chance.”
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So is Ben Stokes England’s greatest cricketer of all time? “He can be in the conversation, for sure,” Buttler said.
No wonder the first thing Stokes spoke about after England’s five-wicket win at the MCG was, “The best teams learn from their mistakes and don’t let it affect them.” He was talking about the team’s defeat to Ireland earlier in the tournament, of course, but he may as well have been thinking about himself in the past.