Melodrama became the norm in this tournament, with a succession of last-over finishes that left onlookers gasping for breath, and players either with shellshocked heads in sweat-drenched hands or dancing ecstatically around outfields glistening with dew.
It was not a perfect tournament but it was mesmerising and no game was more gobsmacking than the final. The notion T20 is too short a format to encompass a bit of ebb and flow has been banished; so, too, has the old idea it is just “a bit of hit and giggle”. The intensity, the gamut of emotions engendered within the space of three hours – which is, after all, longer than it (usually) takes to perform Hamlet, not to mention a dozen episodes of The Archers – has made for spell-binding sporting theatre, in which England played a starring role.
With the exception of the semi-final against New Zealand, when Eoin Morgan and his men almost achieved the perfect game, every England match has been a rollercoaster experience. They clambered out of a variety of holes with great tenacity, skill and spirit and after 39 overs against West Indies at Eden Gardens it looked as if they would extricate themselves once more. Then came the Ben Stokes over, which would never be completed.
Stokes will never be the man to take on the role of the second gravedigger. He demands attention; he wants to be in the thick of it. Without the benefit of hindsight, everyone, including Morgan, was tossing him the ball for that final over in Kolkata. He was the man for the job. We all know what happened next and now we wonder how long the scars will remain. In the space of three balls he was transformed from the ruthless international sportsman, poised to produce the coup de grâce, to a gauche young boy lost in the floodlights in front of 50,000 spectators and millions glued to their TV sets.
The team have rallied around him. “We share the pain,” said Morgan, who was quick to point out how his batsmen had dug the hole in the first place. There was sympathy from just about everyone except Marlon Samuels. Bowlers especially understand “there but for the grace of God go I” feeling.
The scars will be around for a while. It may well be Stokes in the future will spend more time contemplating his own game rather than engaging in too many conversations with provocative opponents. He will surely overcome his agony, though. A chat with Stuart Broad may help; he was carted for six sixes in an over by Yuvraj Singh in the World T20 of 2007 in Durban; in 2015 he took eight for 15 against Australia at Trent Bridge, and there have been many highlights in between. A chat with Geoff Miller or Chris Cowdrey and down the line Stokes has a great after-dinner speech. However, it was probably not a great time for speeches in the England camp on Sunday night. After the game the coach, Trevor Bayliss, said: “Whatever words I come up with in the dressing room won’t be enough. They’re hurting but this will steel them for the future.”
We are likely to see much more of these England players than the victorious West Indies in years to come. Bayliss – and Morgan – sense this could be the start of something special, while even the eternal optimist, Darren Sammy, accepts his team are too old to stay together for much longer.
“If you add up the white-ball games these guys have played, it’s a long way behind other teams,” Bayliss said. “It’s a promising side and the signs are good. We have still got work to do but we have a lot of good players to work with. English cricket is in good hands. We may not have any pretty bowlers but we have guys who give 100%. On Sunday we gave ourselves a chance to win and that’s a great sign moving forward.”
Bayliss shuns hyperbole – he will never get a job on TV here or back home on Channel Nine – but he is surely right. It was agony on Sunday for his players but in this tournament England demonstrated they have the talent and the character to challenge the best in the world. And they would do well to remember the pain, just to remind themselves that they never want to experience it again when the next opportunity to win a trophy comes around.
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