LONDON: Ben Stokes started England’s march to World Cup glory with a catch to remember and ended their historic campaign weeping tears of joy as victory against New Zealand completed a personal tale of redemption.
The all-rounder was voted man-of-the-match after hitting an unbeaten 84 in a thrilling England run chase that ended with the match tied after Eoin Morgan’s team finished on 241 all out in reply to New Zealand’s 241-8.
The 28-year-old’s heroics set up a rare Super Over that saw Stokes and Jos Buttler score 15 runs from six extra balls off New Zealand’s Trent Boult.
When England held New Zealand to 15 from Jofra Archer’s own Super Over, it was the hosts who took the trophy because they hit more boundaries in the match, including several from Stokes.
The incredible climax at Lord’s gave England their first World Cup and ensured Stokes’s lasting legacy will be his heroics in the final instead of the 2017 street brawl that threatened to ruin his career.
Not surprisingly, Stokes was overcome with emotion and he wept openly during the jubilant on-field celebrations.
“I’m pretty lost for words. All that hard work for four years and now to be stood here as champions of the world, it’s an amazing feeling,” Stokes said. “There was no chance I wasn’t going to be there at the end. It’s moments like that you live for as a professional cricketer. It’s incredible, I hope we have inspired people to want to do this in the future.”
“Ben Stokes, he’s a great player. He stepped up when his team needed him. That is the mark of greatness,” former England captain Michael Vaughan said on BBC radio.
Stokes missed the 2017-18 Ashes series in Australia following a well-documented incident in Bristol — an ugly scene outside a nightclub which led to a charge of affray, over which he was found not guilty.
But he was welcomed back with warm, unconditional support from his team-mates and has repaid that faith in spades during this unforgettable World Cup campaign.
“Without the lads in the ODI team and the Test team and the support from my family — that’s all gone now,” said Stokes, who made his England ODI debut in 2011. “This is what we aspire to be. I don’t think there will ever be a better game in cricket than that.”
New Zealand-born Stokes and the World Cup have been a perfect match over the past six weeks.
From the moment he leapt backwards and thrust a hand over his head to take a stunning catch to dismiss Andile Phehlukwayo in England’s tournament-opening win over South Africa, the tournament has provided Stokes with a chance to change his story.
He scored 82 not out and 89 when all about him were losing their heads in group-stage defeats against Sri Lanka and Australia that threatened England’s progress to the semi-finals.
In a must-win clash against India, Stokes delivered again with 79, helping to launch England on a three-match winning run that took them to the final.
With the situation growing more tense by the minute in England’s run chase against New Zealand’s fired-up pace attack on Sunday, it was Stokes who came to the rescue.
Playing with poise and panache, he ensured England made it to the Super Over despite needing 14 off the final over to tie the regulation match.
Smashing Boult for a six, Stokes enjoyed a moment of deserved good fortune when he dived full length to avoid being run out, with the ball deflecting off his bat and going for four more runs -- giving him another six runs.
It was surely at that moment that Stokes realised it was going to be his day.
The cathartic triumph was completed soon after amid fireworks and confetti as Morgan held the World Cup high in the London sky while Stokes tried in vain to stop the tears.
Published in Dawn, July 16th, 2019