Redemption Song: How Pantomime Villain Ben Stokes Became A National Hero

Redemption Song: How Pantomime Villain Ben Stokes Became A National Hero
13:22, 15 Jul 2019

Anguish is an emotion that lights up Ben Stokes’ face in the big moments. Not one to shy away from stepping up for England’s hour of need, there was something familiar about the puffing red cheeks and widened eyes as he crouched to the floor for a moment’s pause. 

It was the final over in a World Cup final and the nation’s hopes were resting on his shoulders. Where have we heard that before? 

In 2016, it was the West Indies who proved his nemesis. Stokes was tasked with limiting them to just 19 runs and failed, smashed for four consecutive sixes by the electric Carlos Brathwaite. 

This time, there were tears once again. The emotion is part of his game, an extra energy reserve which allows the 28-year-old to battle harder, hit harder, and do the unthinkable.   

Despair was beginning to dawn at the Home of Cricket. It came, then went, then came back again, much like the clouds which had softened up the wicket and left the favourites with an uphill battle after New Zealand had opted to bat first.    

In a parallel universe, it might have been Jos Buttler who became England’s man of the hour. It certainly felt that way, judging by the collective sigh at his dismissal at 196-5. 

So yes, Stokes’ phenomenal innings of 84 off 98 balls had its good fortune. Yes, it might have ended prematurely had a handful of millimetres of Trent Boult’s heel not traversed into the boundary. An innings bolstered by four leg byes – which ought to have only been three, if you believe former umpire Simon Taufel’s interpretation - off a completely unintentional deflection. 

This is a sport decided by the finest margins. If anyone does not believe in cricketing gods – or Allah, as Adil Rashid told Eoin Morgan afterwards, then surely it’s time to re-evaluate that stance in light of what happened on Sunday. 

New Zealand, at least, must feel there is somebody, somewhere conspiring against them. Four years ago, their defeat against Australia was comprehensive. At Lord’s, their agony was intensified all the more because it was entirely inexplicable. 

By the same token, there must be someone up there looking down favourably on Stokes. 

It is not two years since his arrest for affray following that altercation in Bristol, an incident which led to an eight-match ban.  

Within 24 hours, Stokes went from being hailed as the man on whom England’s Ashes dreams were reliant, to a pariah, left at home. There were calls for him to be stripped of the vice-captaincy, or worse. 

The ECB could have disregarded him altogether. Indeed, all he really got given that the ban largely affected games already served, aside from a trial, were grumblings about his lack of leadership and discipline. 

There were no signs of those doubts as he soothed Jofra Archer’s nerves ahead of the super over. 

The message to the young bowler was that he would not be defined as a player by what happened over the course of the next six balls. 

Yet Stokes knows better than anyone, had the story been Jimmy Neesham walloping Archer over the boundary – as it threatened to be until the final ball – that those scars would have taken a long time to heal. 

His own heroics can, at last, overwrite everything that has gone before and shape his legacy. 

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