It was never going to be easy, was it? Striding to the wicket at three down for 71 it certainly wasn’t. But Ben Stokes is built of sterner stuff than you or I. This was his time. This has been his tournament.
With Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root all already back in the pavilion the prospects of a first men’s World Cup could scarcely have been more bleak. When captain Eoin Morgan followed just four overs later they looked darker still.
The capacity crowd at Lord’s, once buoyant with New Zealand eight down a few hours previous, were bowed. Watchers beyond the boundary became wincers as four years of record-setting one-day dominance appeared as far away as the 242 target in front of their hand-covered eyes. Sport is supposed to be fun, you know? No one told this small corner of St John’s Wood.
But they didn’t reckon with Stokes. England’s brilliant all-rounder is known for his belligerence, both with ball and bat, but this wasn’t the occasion for that. This was the time for coolness from England’s hottest head. Stokes heeded the call. Singles became twos, twos became boundaries. Joined by Jos Buttler a once daunting winning line crept ever closer.
The crowd knew it too. Without as much as an exchange of words they all knew. Where once there were nerves there was noise. Hey Jude and Hi Ho Silver Lining rang out. 72 from 10. As the sun peered through the greyness the temperature rose. Lockie Ferguson’s temperament grew hotter still as England’s pair of lifesavers were made to fend for their own.
But on they went, conscious of what this all meant but also of what it would still take to get it. Faced with a 90mph barrage most people wouldn’t get on one knee in the face of it. But most people aren’t Buttler, whose pitch-perfect ramp careered over his own head for two more. 59 from seven.
Trent Boult returned, still seething from being denied Roy’s wicket by the width of a ball to open the innings. How would England deal with the Kiwi’s key man? Buttler only knows one way. A carved slap over cover brings a run-a-ball half-century. A single for Stokes brings another. Neither are celebrated. Both know what is really at stake.
But what is a free-to-air TV drama without the twists. Buttler goes for one shot too many, skying the ball high for sub Tim Southee to snaffle. Lord’s falls silent once more. Only pockets of black and beige were alive, the home fans dead. They stayed seated as Chris Woakes followed Buttler back, the roaring, relentless Ferguson striking for a second time in three balls. Plunkett, England’s blue-collar barnstormer with the ball what seemed like a lifetime ago in the morning, joined Stokes. 39 from 24.
Boundary Plunkett. Boundary Stokes. The crowd back in the game. There are 30,000 seats at the home of cricket but none are being used to their full capability as bums clench on the edge of each. The rate is 12. Two overs remain. Plunkett won’t see them through though as Boult snaffles a heavy and heaved hoik to long on. He catches the next one too, as Stokes goes for the same spot but a boot on the boundary rope hands him a reprieve. Lord’s gasps. Archer swings and misses. England need 15 from six.
Dot. Dot. Six, a glorious six, high into the stands over midwicket as Stokes connects with everything he has left. A two into the legside. A dive, four overthrows and six more. Three from two. Stokes tries for all of them in one but Adil Rashid won’t make that. Two from one for the World Cup. Stokes down the ground, he gets one. Mark Wood turns, scampers, dives but he’s short. After 24,050 balls in this tournament there’ll be 12 more. It’s a super over.
Two men. One goal. Stokes, still equal parts elated and exhausted from his unbeaten 84 just minutes previous, smears three deep into leg, a single next before Stokes finds the precious boundary, sweeping Boult through midwicket. One more and then Buttler finds two. One more ball and Buttler creams it, a shot befitting the occasion, whipping a would-be Yorker to the square leg fence. 15. Fifteen precious, priceless runs.
Jofra Archer is the man. He’s been England’s man all along and he’ll be their man here. A wide, not a wide, anything but a wide. Jimmy Neesham gets two, a hard run two but a two nonetheless. No doubt about the next, a six, a sensational maximum slapped high into the stands over square leg. It’s seven from four. It’s New Zealand’s to lose. Two more, then two more. It’s three from two, but one is all they’ll get as Neesham fails to get enough of the fifth. Two from one. Martin Guptill to face it. He scrapes it to leg but Roy is on it in a flash. 30,000 yell ‘keeper’s’ and he heeds the call. He launches. Buttler takes. The bails are off. Guptill is short. England are world champions. On boundaries scored, the most fitting of all technicalities for this brilliant side, England are world champions. From ecstasy to agony and ecstasy again. England are world champions.
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