Most players would have been broken by what happened at the end of the World T20 final in 2016 but Ben Stokes, the bowler destroyed by West Indies’ Carlos Brathwaite, is made of sterner stuff and three years on was England’s one-day hero on their greatest day.
The picture of Stokes slumped on his haunches, bewildered and bemused after conceding four successive sixes in the last over in that final defeat must have hurt, as must the long and tortuous strain of his court case after an assault charge interrupted his career before he was cleared of affray last August.
On Sunday at Lord’s, however, he played one of the all-time great World Cup innings – not once but twice – as England won the trophy for the first time on boundary count following a super over after tieing twice with New Zealand.
With England struggling at 86-4 on a pitch proving more than troublesome, Stokes began the cautious but effective 110-run partnership with Jos Buttler that swung the game back in England’s direction.
When wickets began to tumble at the other end, Stokes increased the tempo, though with 15 needed off the final over it seemed as if he had left it too late.
Two dot balls swung the odds even further towards New Zealand but Stokes smashed a magnificent six over mid-wicket.
Then came one of those crazy cricketing moments that will be relived for years as with Stokes desperately diving to complete a second run, Martin Guptill’s throw deflected off his bat and ran all the way to the boundary to chalk up another six runs.
His attempt to get the two runs needed off the final ball fell one short and Stokes threw his bat to the ground in disgust. But his day was not done as, 20 minutes later; he strode back to the middle with Buttler for the super over.
Stokes struck a three, a four and a single as England posted 15 – a tally the Kiwis matched but needed to beat by dint of England’s superior boundary record.
‘I’ve said it before that a lot of careers could have been ended by what happened in Kolkata but the way he trains, he’s just an incredible cricketer and he’s had a huge day today,’ England captain Eoin Morgan said of the all-rounder.
‘To come through everything is almost super-human. He almost carried the team today – to bat with the lower order the way he did is incredible.’
An emotional Stokes, 28, said he could not have recovered from his various setbacks alone. ‘Not without the lads in the ODI team and the Test team and the support from my family – but that’s all gone now,’ he said. ‘I don’t know what it is about finals that produce moments like that. It’s incredible. Amazing. There was no chance I wasn’t going to bat in that super over – but I definitely wasn’t going to bowl anyway after last time.
‘So much hard work has gone in, this is what we aspire to be. I don’t think there will ever be a better game in cricket than that.’
Asked about the bizarre deflection in the final over, he said. ‘Playing against New Zealand is always a great event, they are a seriously good team and really good lads. I said to [New Zealand captain] Kane Williamson I’ll be apologising for that for the rest of my life.’