England ride Stokes special to lift T20 World Cup
Become first team to hold ODI and T20 World Cups at the same time after 5-wicket win over Pakistan in the final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
The first chapter of this story began in Kolkata, on April 3, 2016 when Ben Stokes’s despair was drowned in the din of Eden Gardens and the roar of Carlos Brathwaite in the aftermath of four consecutive sixes. Three years later, the greatest one-dayer at Lord’s finally brought home the Cup, the outcome of a white-ball revolution that began after the 2015 ODI World Cup debacle Down Under.
The final piece was still missing though. It was found at the Melbourne Cricket Ground as England swept to victory over Pakistan in the T20 World Cup final on Sunday, becoming the standard-bearer in white-ball cricket. Pakistan were all heart in their fight to defend 137 but could not dislodge Stokes. He braved everything that came at him to score an unbeaten 52, hitting the winning run and setting off on a victory lap.
The forecast luckily proved wrong as it rained everywhere but the MCG. It was still overcast and England chose to bowl, restricting Pakistan to 137/8 with the same template that had shut out India’s batting in the semi-final on Thursday. Babar Azam and Shan Masood tried to boost the innings but Pakistan batters fumbled, failing to read the wily bowling of left-arm seamer Sam Curran and leg-spinner Adil Rashid who shared five wickets for 34 runs. But it isn’t over till Pakistan say it is. They reduced England to 45/3 within the powerplay and then had pulled the equation to 41 off 29 balls, dropping the ball once Shaheen Shah Afridi pulled out of the attack after bowling the first delivery of the 16th over. It was a turn Stokes and Moeen Ali were desperately waiting for. England didn’t look back after that.
“It wasn't easy at all,” skipper Jos Buttler said. “We got away to a decent start which controlled the run-rate, and that man Ben Stokes was there at the end. He's the ultimate competitor. In anything he does, a hell of a lot of experience to bank on, he timed it perfectly, the impetus he and Moeen had took it away from Pakistan.
“To have won in 2019 and now this T20 World Cup, it just shows the vision at the start that people had where we could get to as an England white-ball team. There's no reason why we shouldn’t go on from strength to strength.”
That England won't romp to the total was evident very early when Afridi bowled Alex Hales in the first over. Landing back of the length, the ball swerved and straightened, cramping Hales and opening him up. Buttler countered with a couple of boundaries but Pakistan were riding the momentum. Batting for the first time in the tournament, Phil Salt drove and flicked for two fours but Haris Rauf set him up for a catch at short midwicket. Naseem Shah may not have any wicket to show but he bowled quick and got movement, sending England into a shell.
Harry Brook’s dismissal made it 84/4 and Pakistan knew the wicket of Stokes could leave the game on a knife’s edge. But Stokes survived. First, Rauf beat his edge with a 149 kph delivery. Shah joined in, bowling probing lines to Stokes that he barely managed not to edge. Two overs of Shah—12th and 14th—and the 15th over from Rauf were so tight it looked as if sheer providence was keeping Stokes afloat. It was building up to a dramatic finish till Pakistan blinked with Afridi starting to limp.
With 41 needed off five overs, Afridi was summoned for a two-over spell. But he pulled up in his run-up. Going back, Afridi marked a shortened run-up but this time too he barely managed to make it to the crease. Iftikhar Ahmed, who had just bowled three overs, was asked to complete the over and straightaway Stokes released the pressure by going after him. A boundary through covers followed by a six over long-on. Suddenly, the asking rate had dropped to 28 off 24 balls. And when Moeen hit Mohammed Wasim for three boundaries in the next over, the game was as good as over.
What England would have done without Stokes will be asked more often now. He wasn’t in the best shape but found runs against Sri Lanka just when it was required. On Sunday, he hung around knowing the target wasn’t big. The pitch was two-paced, he wasn’t connecting the ball well, and at one time, was on three off eight balls. His determination paid off as England became the first nation to hold the ODI and T20 World Cups simultaneously. “It certainly wasn't his most fluent innings,” Buttler said. “But you knew he was never going to go down without a fight... We’re immensely lucky to have him. He’s one of the great players of English cricket.”
Stokes praised the bowlers. “It was a tricky wicket, one that you never felt in, so to restrict them to 130-odd the bowlers have to take a lot of credit for that. With that (group stage defeat to Ireland) being so early in the competition, we had to address it. In tournaments like these you can't carry baggage with you. That was a little blip on the way, and credit to Ireland for turning up and beating us. But the best teams learn from their mistakes and not let it affect them.”