In the 2016 World T20 final, in front of a large, noisy crowd at Eden Gardens, when Chris Jordan bowled a superb 19th over and West Indies required 19 runs in the last over, Eoin Morgan must have thought that the Cup was in his hands but Carlos Braithwaite smacked four successive sixes off Ben Stokes. There were tears and sheer dis-belief in Stokes’s eyes and joy on the faces of the West Indians.
Many thought that Stokes’s career was over or at least it would take a long time for him to get out of the trauma. But he was supported by his countrymen. And today he is among the most highly regarded cricketers in the world.
He has been the carrying the “bad boy” tag since he was very young. He was sent home from England Lions tour in 2013 as Andy Flower scolded him. He had to miss 2014 World T20 after punching a locker on the West Indies tour. Then he was arrested for involvement in a street brawl near a night club with two men in September 2017. That forced him to miss the 2017-18 Ashes.
After England lost the 3rd Test against Australia at Perth, Michael Vaughan said: “I hope Stokes is hurting.”
But all these aforementioned events have transformed him into a strong and steel-minded sportsman. Today he is rated as highly as Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff were in their days.
Only six weeks back he steered England’s ship in the World Cup final against New Zealand when they were 86 for 4. His all-important 84 runs knock was a show of courage, great technique and brute force. It led England to their maiden title.
In the 3rd Test of the ongoing series, his swashbuckling knock of 135 was a display of great endurance, defiance, and, towards the end, absolutely brutal hitting.
The Aussie bowlers had bowled England out for just 67 in the first innings. It was the same place where Ian Botham’s miraculous knock of 149 had pulled England out of a follow-on situation to an emphatic triumph, equaling the series 1-1.
Australia would have retained “the Urn” but for Stokes. Wickets were tumbling at the other end but Stokes was ready for the battle in front of a crowd that refused to leave the venue even after the ninth wicket had fallen.
It is true that England’s cause was helped by Tim Paine’s poor captaincy, especially his use of the DRS. It is another matter that Joel Wilson made a blunder when he ruled Stokes not out, with England still needing two runs. (Stokes missed Lyon’s ball while trying to sweep and replays showed the ball would have gone on to hit the leg-stump.)
His innings has been likened to Botham’s 1981 innings and VVS Laxman’s 281 against Australia in 2001.
England required 67 runs to win when Stuart Broad departed. Although Jack Leach, the eleventh batsman, had scored a match-winning 92 runs knock against Ireland, he had to be saved from the relentless Aussie attack. And Stokes did that very well. Of the next 62 balls, Leach had to play only 17 as Stokes retained the strike most of the time, by taking doubles and hitting boundaries initially and taking singles towards the end of overs.
Stokes unleashed the brutal hitter that he had tamed for the most part of his innings, playing shots as if it were a t20 match.
The man who had scored just two off 50 balls the previous day smacked eight sixes and 11 fours. And England who had been written off chased a daunting target.
Australia got chances but Harris dropped a tough catch and Nathan Lyon fumbled when he could have easily run Leach out.
With two runs required, Leach negotiated a bouncer and took a single which he will cherish forever, giving strike to Stokes to end the day in an emphatic style. Stokes smashed Cummins toward covers for four as if he was playing a baby bowler.
He has become the cricket world’s colossus and is one of the most talked about guys in the world of sports. Due to his innings, he was labeled by Botham “the Special One”.
This English cricket summer of 2019 will be relished by Stokes while the spectators will savor it for their entire lives. We are fortunate to have witnessed one of greatest Test innings of all time.