Ben Stokes earned redemption six years after his horror show at the 2016 World Cup final with an unbeaten half-century that secured England’s second global title in T20 with victory over Pakistan at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Sunday.
While famous for his heroics at the 50-over World Cup final against New Zealand in 2019, Stokes’s previous T20 decider ended in ignominy as Carlos Brathwaite smashed him for four successive sixes in a final over onslaught to fire West Indies to victory.
While not “eaten up” by the memory, Stokes spoke of using it as motivation in the lead-up to this World Cup and he duly delivered on Sunday as he scored 52 not out, a personal best in T20Is, to guide England to victory with six balls to spare.
It was neither the 31-year-old all-rounder’s fastest knock nor his most fluent as batting partners fell away, and he had to grind his way through some testing fast bowling.
But at the end of the night, Stokes shifted up the gears and smashed a string of boundaries in tandem with Moeen Ali (19) to ensure England would chase down a modest target of 138.
Stokes had already carved his place in English cricket folklore three years ago with his unbeaten 84 at Lord’s in the nerve-jangling final win over New Zealand at the 2019 World Cup.
If not the greatest English player of all-time, Stokes showed again on Sunday that he is certainly among them, his captain Jos Buttler said.
“He always stands up in the biggest moments,” Buttler told reporters. “He can take a lot of pressure on his shoulders and perform. Absolutely with him in the middle, you know you have a good chance. (I’m) just so proud of him.
“He’s been on an amazing journey.”
While England team mate Sam Curran was player-of-the-match, taking 3-12 with brilliant death bowling, Stokes also chipped in a wicket when he bowled the dangerous Iftikhar Ahmed for a duck.
Yet Stokes was quick to deflect the praise onto his bowling team mates for setting up the win by restricting Pakistan to 137 for eight.
“In finals, especially chasing, you forgot all the hard work that came first,” he said. “To restrict them to 130, the bowlers have to take a lot of credit.”
A few months after former captain Eoin Morgan’s retirement, England have become the first nation to hold both global white ball trophies and stake their claim as one of the great teams in limited overs cricket.
“There’s a huge amount of talent there,” said Buttler.
“I think the perception of our team has changed a lot. Over the last few years we’ve certainly not played it safe.
“We’ve always tried to push the boundaries to try to get ahead of the rest of the world and be braver than anyone else and we’ll take what comes from that.”