Ben Stokes – “I’d much rather be doing that last over thing than sitting there watching and hoping whoever bowled it gets us through” © Getty Images
Not half. His solitary contribution with the bat had been to spank his first and only delivery, the last of England’s innings, over cow corner for six to complete a satisfactory late charge to 171 for 4; his first and most sensational involvement in the field had come at the end of the third over, with Sri Lanka already reeling at 15 for 3.
Angelo Mathews, whose heroics would eventually take England to the brink but who for now was poking his first ball cautiously out to the leg side, half motioned for a single but sent his partner back. Stokes, swooping from mid-on and launching himself at the stumps to under-arm from three yards, pinged off the bails to dispatch Lahiru Thirimanne and put England into a position of such dominance that the host broadcaster’s much-mocked and misunderstood “Win Predictor” would soon be declaring their chances of victory were “100%”.
The situation did not feel quite so clear-cut, however, by the time Stokes was thrown the ball to complete his final six touches of the match. Though hobbled badly by a hamstring strain, Mathews’ magnificence had hauled his team’s dead chase back from the dead, and with 15 runs still required but five sixes to his name already, England knew they were a couple of clean hits from oblivion.
Instead, Stokes responded with the over of his limited-over life. Three pinpoint yorkers, four dot-balls, and one mighty roar of triumph later, he had helped to carry England into the last four with a performance that epitomised the value of a genuine allrounder.
“I was pleased with my whole overall game,” Stokes told reporters at the team hotel in Delhi, as they continued their preparations for Wednesday’s semi-final against New Zealand.
“I said in an interview afterwards that I’d much rather be doing that last over thing than sitting there watching and hoping whoever bowled it gets us through. I’d rather be the man doing it. It’s a lot easier on the nerves.
“It sounds silly to say when you’re the person doing it, but I’m not very good at watching tight situations like that. I just love being involved in the game and the high-pressure situations and it probably brings the best out of me in terms of my cricket. So hopefully we don’t get it down to that tight again, especially after the start we got. But I enjoy getting put into the big moments in games.”
There’s been a fair amount of big-game pressure flying around for Stokes in this tournament so far. On the face of it he has not been as influential as, say, Joe Root or Jos Buttler. His only wicket of the campaign came against Afghanistan, while he has a top-score of 15 in four innings.
But that underplays the importance of his floating role to England’s team dynamic. In their pursuit of 230 against South Africa, for instance, Stokes was pitched in at No. 3 in the midst of the Powerplay, with orders to keep the momentum flying after Alex Hales and Jason Roy’s riotous start against the new ball. He did not hang around for long, but he smashed a four and a 94 metre six in the course of his nine-ball stay, leaving the stage set for Root and Buttler to take a more measured approach to the middle overs.
Stokes on England’s plan for New Zealand – “We’re not going to change anything that we’ve done throughout this whole series just because it is a semi-final” © Getty Images
“It doesn’t bother me,” he said. “Look at the line-up we’ve got at the moment, there’s no one going to come in and take anyone’s place. Rooty’s a world-class player, one of the best around in all three forms at the moment. Even though Morgy’s [Eoin Morgan] struggled a bit in the tournament so far, he’s still one of the guys who other teams will look at and know he’s a very dangerous player. Jos the other night showed how good he is, so it’s quite hard to get in ahead of him. But I’m happy in the role I’m playing – I know what game plan I have to go to whenever I come in.”
The sense is of a cricketer who is maturing before our eyes – and bearing in mind he does not turn 25 until June, it’s safe to assume he is still a long way from his peak. Nevertheless, for a man who was omitted from the 2015 World Cup and who missed the 2014 World T20 in Bangladesh after punching a locker and breaking his wrist, he is happy to be making up for lost time at major tournaments.
“Twenty20 is generally the fun side of cricket,” he said. “You’ve also got to have a sense of humour. Some days you can turn up and get whacked. Next game, turn up, bowl the same and not go for many runs. You’ve got to take it as it comes. It’s been enjoyable, and obviously it’s a massive help when you’re winning and you get through to the semis.”
Next up come New Zealand, a team for whom Stokes might even have been playing had his life not been transported to the Northern Hemisphere as a child, when his father Ged, a rugby league coach, relocated the family to Cockermouth in Cumbria. “I might have had a different accent,” he joked, when asked how different his life might have been.
“They’re the form team,” he added. “They haven’t lost a game yet. We played in a warm-up game [in Mumbai] and beat them, so we’ll take confidence from that, and obviously we beat them in our English summer. We know if we can play to our capabilities, like we did against Sri Lanka, then no matter who we face – albeit New Zealand in the semis – then we’ll give any team a good run.
“We’re not going to change anything that we’ve done throughout this whole series just because it is a semi-final,” he said. “I don’t think that would be the right way and I don’t think that would be the way we’d go anyway because of the team that we have. So we’re not going to look to change anything. It is just another game of cricket, albeit a semi-final.”
England’s record at ICC global events is famously poor – a solitary trophy in 41 years of trying. Nevertheless, this team is potentially two wins away from emulating the World T20 side of 2010, which beat Australia in Bridgetown under the leadership of Paul Collingwood – who happens to be a member of England’s support staff on this trip.
“Colly did say at the start of the tournament, when we were beaten by West Indies that getting beaten by them was a good omen because it happened to him,” Stokes said, recalling a rain-affected opening match in Providence six years ago.
“If we can keep following like that and eventually be the winners, that would be amazing. I think we’re one of the least experience teams out here. We weren’t one of the favourites going in. It would be proving a lot of people wrong.”
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo