He arrived at the crease with England 71 for three in the 20th over. They were behind the rate and losing wickets with regularity. Eoin Morgan would also be gone before long, leaving the Lions in desperate need of a heroic knock from one of Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler if they were to win the 2019 Cricket World Cup.
Boy, did Stokes deliver.
As he brings down the curtain on his one-day international career at the Riverside on Tuesday, that July afternoon three years ago will be at the forefront of everybody’s minds. It wasn’t just that his 84 not out helped England to tie the final against New Zealand, nor that he came straight back out and scored eight more runs in the Super Over to leave the Kiwis with a tough target of 16.
It was also about the majesty of the innings itself. The pace, the composure, the ingenuity, and, when it was most desperately needed at the end of the piece, the brutality. And every last bit of it came with a big dollop of heart.
First, he went about rebuilding the base with Buttler, putting on a century stand with the wicketkeeper. Then, after his partner had holed out to sub fielder Tim Southee just when England were looking to up the scoring pace to match the nine-per-over asking rate, Stokes gradually took greater and greater control.
Even when wickets were tumbling at the other end – Chris Woakes for two, Liam Plunkett for 10 and Jofra Archer first ball – it just gave Stokes greater clarity… he was going to have to take complete charge of the run chase. Thirty-four from three overs became 24 off two and then 15 from one.
Two yorkers gave him two opportunities for singles, but that would have been to devolve responsibility to Adil Rashid. No, this was Stokes’ battle now. He stayed put. 15 needed from four balls. Next up he sunk to one knee to clout Trent Boult over midwicket for a maximum. They needed nine off three balls. No, Stokes needed them.
What happened next will never be repeated. After belting a shot through deep midwicket, Stokes had to take the second run. He needed to get back on strike. Stretching out to make his ground, he inadvertently deflected Martin Guptill’s incoming throw to the boundary for four overthrows. England had the slice of fortune they needed but also the stroke of luck Stokes had earned.
Three from two was no gimme. Off the first of them, Stokes found long-off but simply couldn’t give up the strike, instead sacrificing Rashid by running for an impossible second. They needed two from one.
The man of the hour checked the rules with the umpire. One for a Super Over, two for the win… he just had to make sure they ran the first and claimed at least a tie to keep the match alive.
He got the single with a push to long-on but Mark Wood was run out going for the second, clinching a Super Over that will never be forgotten.
With Stokes on his haunches, exhausted from his efforts, it seemed impossible that he had it in him to go out and front up again in the Super Over but he did it all the same. He had put himself through absolutely everything to get England on par and then gave it one more sensational effort.
When Eoin Morgan lifted England’s first men’s World Cup moments after New Zealand had come inches short of victory, we were all still coming to terms with what Ben Stokes had achieved over those compelling few hours. And, in all honesty, we are still trying to get our heads around it.
He won’t be a part of the title defence in 2023, and he won’t pull on the England blue ever again in his cricket career, but Ben Stokes played the biggest role of all to secure our most significant piece of silverware ever. We’ll be watching that innings over and over for some time to come.
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