Ben Stokes: The man who buried several ghosts at once

Shashwat Kumar

Stokes masterminded a tricky run chase in the final

3rd April, 2016. England and West Indies clashed swords in the ICC World T20 Final at Kolkata. The former huffed and puffed its way to 155, seemingly within inches of a second World T20 triumph.

With 19 needed off 7 deliveries, Marlon Samuels, West Indies’ hero of the day till then, got outfoxed by a searing wide yorker by Chris Jordan. No runs were scored off that ball and England were on the brink of a world title. Surely they wouldn’t have let it slip from there, would they? Yet, they did. And, rather painfully.   

Ben Stokes took up the responsibility of bowling the final over and was carted all around the park by Carlos Brathwaite as the West Indian mercilessly gunned down the 19-run target in four deliveries. A disconsolate Stokes was consoled by his team-mates but the all-rounder was out on his feet. After all, he had let world T20 supremacy escape his nation’s grasp when it seemed easier to cling onto it. And one felt that the all-rounder was never the same after that night in Kolkata.

A year and a half later, the Englishman found himself embroiled in another tough predicament, an off-field one this time. On 25th September, 2017, Stokes was alleged to have committed affray outside a pub in Bristol. Intense public scrutiny followed and the all-rounder would’ve been forgiven to wilt under that kind of pressure. The incident in question also led to him being stripped of the vice-captaincy and he subsequently missed the 2017-18 Ashes.

Stokes was publicly scrutinised for his actions off the field

Thus, at that juncture, many believed that Stokes had indeed withered away all his vast talent and had succumbed to the trials and tribulations of being a professional sportsperson. With him staring at the barrel of disappointment, one felt an enormous act of sporting redemption would be the only tonic to his ailment. And that moment arrived at Lord’s on 14th of July and it’s fair to say he grabbed that opportunity with both hands.

Set 242 for maiden World Cup glory, England stuttered, stumbled and nearly lost their way spectacularly. The memories of botched chases in 1979, 1987 and 1992 quickly started gushing each English mind and one couldn’t really blame them. For all the Three Lions had given to the crafty game of cricket, they were yet to lift the trophy that mattered.

Thus, when Stokes walked out to bat at 71 for 3 after 19.3 overs, the English were under severe strife. A couple of wickets then and the World Cup dream would’ve been extinguished for another four years, at least. Yet, that is when England’s most gifted cricketer grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and banished the horrors that had haunted him as well as his country.

A clutch innings had taken the all-rounder to a score of 70 after the end of the penultimate over of the World Cup. With 15 further runs required to secure victory, Stokes found himself in a familiar situation. An improbable final-over target to achieve world domination. This had happened before, hadn’t it? Fortunately for him though, at Lord’s, he was wielding the willow and the outcome was dramatically different to what unfolded in 2016.

Stokes strained every muscle to take England to glory

Stokes shovelled, smeared, scythed the deliveries and eventually scored 14 runs against Trent Boult, even as he kept running out of partners at the other end. And incredibly, the World Cup final had ended in a tie. While that was definitely a first, it also allowed the Englishman another bite at the World Cup cherry.

For once though, there seemed an inevitability about the outcome of the Super Over. Surely the cricketing gods would smile on Stokes and let him have his moment in the London sun.

The all-rounder scored 8 runs off 3 balls and that laid the foundation for England to get through by the tiniest of slim margins. And Stokes and England had their moment of redemption, at long last.

Yet, while the result may paint a pretty picture, the road to that verdict was certainly not as rosy. On countless occasions, Stokes, his lifestyle, his ability to handle pressure and his character as an individual was questioned. However, he accepted all the criticism, took it in his stride and ensured the world was singing his praises by the time he turned it around, emphatically.

Regret, whether it be a bad decision, a compulsive act of madness or a general feeling of having let everyone down, is arguably the most shattering emotion a human can encompass. Inevitably, the aforementioned emotion is particularly hard to get around. And that, above all, makes other accomplishments dwarf in comparison to what Stokes conquered.

The Englishman was backed into a corner, he had seemingly nowhere to go. He also had to fight the demons in his head, cricketing devils and off-field ones too. Yet, he found a way, like all champions do. And in three hours on the 14th of July, he buried numerous ghosts, his own as well as his nation’s, through sheer perseverance.

At the end of it all, one member among the joyous English squad stood taller. And that man was Ben Stokes, you better remember the name!    

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