Ben Stokes hit 84 runs not out to help England win their first-ever ODI World Cup via a Super Over.
IMAGE: Ben Stokes celebrates after England won the World Cup final against New Zealand at Lord’s on Sunday. Photograph: Clive Mason/Getty Images
It had to be Ben Stokes. It just had to be.
The man who lit the touch paper on this tournament seven weeks ago with a catch for ages, then provided the fireworks in the finale to carry England into the history books.
The all-rounder’s redemption tale is now complete and the tears that rolled down his cheeks after that ridiculous finish told you how much it meant — to him, to his team, to his family and, of course, to his country.
Jason Roy’s throw from the outfield is the magic moment that will be replayed forever and ever — to strand the luckless Martin Guptill short and seal England’s win.
Jofra Archer also showed maturity and no little bravery to bowl the Super Over while Jos Buttler played a fine knock to get England close.
IMAGE: Ben Stokes’s knock of 84 not out was the top score from this final by a distance — but it was about far more than just the numbers. Photograph: Clive Mason/Getty Images
But Stokes is the man who wrote his name large in probably the greatest game in the history of one-day cricket.
For much of this amazing Sunday afternoon it looked like Stokes was destined to play another valiant role in a losing cause.
Against Australia and Sri Lanka in the groups stages he ran out of partners and time as England’s chases fell short.
But against the country of his birth, Lady Luck and no little heart and determination from Stokes produced the comeback of all comebacks.
His knock of 84 not out was the top score from this final by a distance — but it was about far more than just the numbers.
The numbers say that Stokes is the only member of England’s top six not to hit a ton this World Cup.
The reality is their No 5 has been their best and most consistent batsman. A man for all occasions.
IMAGE: A dejected Ben Stokes after being hit for four sixes in the final over by West Indies’ Carlos Brathwaite in the World T20 final in Kolkata, on April 03, 2016. Photograph: Gareth Copley/Getty Images
To do this on the biggest stage, three years on from that Kolkata classic when Carlos Brathwaite shattered his dreams, is a mark of the man.
Their best batsman, their best fielder and their beating heart — it must have been written in the stars that he would shine brightest on the biggest stage.
It didn’t look like Stokes’ day when Buttler departed with the hosts still 45 runs short and running out of overs.
Having played second fiddle to his partner, Stokes had no choice but to step on the gas with the tail.
England needed 34 off 19, then they needed 22 off nine. Wickets were falling, it was pure bedlam and yet there stood Stokes.
The calm in the storm, still scrambling twos, sending back partners, turning down singles and inviting yet more pressure onto himself.
Trent Boult stepped on the rope to give him a life he surely deserved. And then there was that final over.
IMAGE: Ben Stokes reacts after the match finished in a tie, forcing the title clash into a Super Over. Photograph: Clive Mason/Getty Images
They will still be telling stories of that final over long after we are all dead and gone.
The slog sweep he smoked into the mound stand was quite something. The scrambled two that became a six as he dived for the line and deflected it to the rope, unintentionally of course, was something else entirely.
Adil Rashid and Mark Wood were also out there, but only really in spirit. This was the Stokes show.
And then we got an encore. The champagne Super Over. This was too Barmy even for England’s Army in the stands.
But Stokes was never going to let anyone else take this stage, that is just testament his character.
He carved another four through midwicket, hit eight off his three balls, and helped set the Black Caps 16 to win.
If he had any gas left in the tank, you can bet he would have put his hand up to bowl the Super Over as well.
Archer took the ball in his stead and finished the job — but the man of the match was Stokes. Forever and always.
(International Cricket Council)