Nineteen. N-n-n-n-nineteen, for those old enough to remember Paul Hardcastle. Nineteen runs to defend in the final over of the competition and the World Twenty20 trophy would be in England’s hands. Ben Stokes to bowl it, a young player gaining a reputation as a reliable “death” bowler.
There is a story of a footballer waiting to take a late decisive penalty in a vital match. “ I wouldn’t like to be in his boots now,” said the commentator. “I would,” responded the watching George Best. That is Stokes. If Eoin Morgan had tried to pull a left-field masterstroke and give the ball to someone else, Stokes would have snatched it away, told the captain what he thought of it and marched to his mark. It is precisely for that sort of situation, he will tell you, that he plays the game.
There was an additional incentive for him, too. Marlon Samuels had almost singlehandedly resurrected the West Indian innings that had faltered badly in response to an indifferent England innings that had itself been resuscitated by the brilliance of Joe Root. There is little love lost between Stokes and Samuels – except that in that final over at Eden Gardens he did not get the opportunity to bowl to him, faced instead by Carlos Brathwaite, a tall muscular Barbadian, with long levers and a keen eye.
Stokes searched for his yorker, angled in at the batsman’s feet, but was short by a foot or two, so that Brathwaite could swing himself off his feet in depositing it over backward square leg for six. Stokes adjusted his line but not the length sufficiently, so that the second ball was muscled over long-on for a second six. Suddenly from facing defeat West Indies were in the driving seat.
But still seven runs were needed from four balls. Brathwaite swung again, enough almost to put himself in traction as a consequence, and without quite connecting properly, sent the third delivery for another six, over long-off. Scores level and game almost over. Brathwaite, adrenaline pumping, was not going to let up now. A fourth six soared over wide long-on and the field was overwhelmed by a tidal wave of West Indian cricketers and staff, male and female, for West Indies women’s team had taken their version of the competition earlier in the day, and the elaborate orchestrated celebrations began.
Stokes was obviously and understandably distraught, a red-faced misty-eyed firebrand down on his haunches with his head in his hands as Chris Jordan tried to console him. Morgan and his team-mates will go out of their way to emphasise that all theydo, they do as a team. But it will be a long time before Stokes will be able to come to terms with what happened to him on one of the biggest stages there is today. The game can be humbling at times.
Stokes and Root, though, are the beating hearts in this England team, which stayed true to itself throughout and, if we are all honest, exceeded expectation. Within five overs of the start the England innings had been in disarray at 23 for three and convention has it that, if a side batting first loses three wickets during the power play, they rarely win. Only Root found any sort of answer to Samuel Badree’s masterful skiddy wrist spin and his response to the difficult situation was to reach a half-century from 33 balls, an innings of pure strokes and placement, equalling the fastest ever in a World T20 final.
While Virat Kohli was deemed man of the tournament, then few, outside India, would have quibbled had the accolade gone to Root. Perhaps then it ought not to have been a surprise when for the second over of West Indies’ innings Morgan threw the ball not to Jordan or Stokes or any of his regular bowlers but turned instead to Root.
Sometimes it seems better to go with the flow. A batsman can respond in one of several ways: either he will play the over carefully, scared stiff of getting out to a part-timer; or he will try to cash in. From around the wicket Root’s first ball saw Johnson Charles take the latter option, only to find Stokes on the long-on fence. Two balls later the mighty Chris Gayle, scourge of England in their opening match, launched at a ball sent deliberately wide and picked out Stokes once more.
Whose idea was it? The glee on the face of Paul Farbrace, and the way in which the bowling coach, Ottis Gibson, clapped him on the back, suggested it might have been him.
Or maybe it was that bloody dachshund. If there is one thing that will not be missed after this tournament it is the incessant television adverts involving Root and a talking sausage dog. “Fancy a bowl, Joe?” As if.
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