For any of those wondering why Ben Stokes is in England’s T20 team, now you know.
A lot of the time this format is about biffing boundaries but for Stokes against Sri Lanka, it was about keeping calm and steering his side to a nervy victory with the bat. He did it – again.
Three years ago he did it at Lord’s and Leeds, firstly in the 50-over World Cup final against New Zealand and then in the third Ashes Test against Australia. In Sydney on Saturday, he did it once more. Keeping his head as others lost theirs.
There is probably a poem in that somewhere…
Final Group 1 table
|Team||Played||Won||Lost||No result||Net run-rate||Points|
|New Zealand (Q)||5||3||1||1||+2.112||7|
Promoted to No 3 after usual incumbent Dawid Malan pulled his groin in the field, Stokes actually came to the crease with England flying at 75-1 two balls into the eighth over in a chase of 142 to clinch a semi-final spot and eliminate great rivals Australia.
They were flying – but then they faded.
Stokes watched on from the other end as Alex Hales – who had hammered a quick-fire half-century stand with Jos Buttler prior to Stokes coming in – sliced an attempted slog-sweep back into the hands of Wanindu Hasaranga, before Harry Brook, Liam Livingstone and Moeen Ali were guilty of tame single-figure dismissals.
Whereas the requirement when Stokes strode out had been 67 from 76 deliveries with nine wickets in hand, it was now 31 from 33 just five in hand, one of which was Malan, who probably would not have been able to run very fast had he been required to bat.
And running fast was a key component of Stokes’ rescue act. He only struck two boundaries in his unbeaten 42 from 36 deliveries – one in the 11th over and another at the start of the 16th – but turned those into quickly-scampered twos while also picking up a glut of singles in late alliances with Sam Curran and Chris Woakes as England squeaked home with two balls to spare.
England have plenty of players who can pepper the boundary – Phil Salt is one of them and may now get a gig in Thursday’s semi-final in Adelaide if Malan’s injury is a severe one – but few, if any, have Stokes’ thought process under pressure and sheer bloody-mindedness.
Scores of two, six and eight in his first three T20 World Cup innings, following on from totals of nine, seven and 17 not out in the bilateral series against Australia, had some asking what Stokes’ role was in this England team. Now it has become clear. He’s the man for a crisis.
Morgan said to Sky Sports afterwards: “The closer you get to the business end of the tournament, the closer you get to lifting that trophy, you want calm heads out there making good decisions.
“I remember [England rugby union coach] Eddie Jones talking to me years ago about playing under pressure and he talked about getting five yards from the try line with two minutes to go. Who do you want to make that decision? People with clear, calm heads.
“Stokes showed that in abundance [against Sri Lanka]. He will be a guy that as we get to the semi-finals, possibly the final, will play a bigger role, regardless of where he bats. Being around him will make other people calm. He did it by acting, not talking. England would have been short without him.”
Morgan’s fellow former England captain Michael Atherton said of Stokes: “He has done it as well as anybody in this side time and time again.
“I think it is a combination of the clear thinking that Eoin was talking about but also that competitive spirit. The ‘I am going to win this, I am not going to be beaten’. There are some sportsmen that just have that extra gear in situations like that and he is one.”
England skipper Buttler added: “Situations like this are what he is made for and I am delighted he was at the crease. It gives you a sense of calm. He is a proper competitor and getting to this stage of the competition is where you will see him grow and grow .”
It’s likely that India are next up for England on Thursday – that match will be rubberstamped if Rohit Sharma’s side beat Zimbabwe on Sunday and finish top of Group 2.
Whoever England face, they will just hope their batters can replicate Stokes’ coolness and produce less of the chaotic stuff that threatened to dash their hopes of reaching the knockout stages before their star all-rounder did what he does best at the end of a run chase.
Watch England’s T20 World Cup semi-final live on Sky Sports Cricket on Thursday. An hour-long build-up begins at 7am ahead of an 8am start at Adelaide Oval.