T20 World Cup: England’s Ben Stokes delivers again against Sri Lanka


Long after the crowd had gone, the Sydney Cricket Ground now deserted, Ben Stokes bounded across the outfield to join his England team-mates on the trip back to their hotel.

He walked like a man released, the pressure swept away.

Stokes has struggled in this T20 World Cup – a tournament with which he has a difficult past – and many have suggested he is not worth his place in the team.

But, when England needed it most, their man for the big occasion delivered once again, steering them calmly into the semi-finals thanks to a nervy victory over Sri Lanka.

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The game had all the hallmarks of one of those dark England days.

The bowlers began badly and were flogged into the stands.

There was a collapse, with batters holing out when common sense seemed to suggest a more measured approach.

And this at a ground, possibly more than any other in the world, that has witnessed so many of England’s lowest moments.

Ashes series routinely reach a calamitous finale here, while careers have ended in front of Sydney’s famous green-roofed pavilions.

Some England greats – think Kevin Pietersen or even Bodyline’s chief perpetrator Harold Larwood – have not survived Sydney Ashes defeats.

For other, less established names – Scott Borthwick, Boyd Rankin or Mason Crane to name a few – bruising losses were so bad that their fledgling Test careers were washed away like a crisp packet floating in nearby Bondi Bay.

Stokes, though, produced another of those moments for which he will be remembered to ensure England leave Sydney buoyed rather than beaten.

This was not the thrilling six-hitting of Headingley in 2019 – in fact, Stokes did not clear the rope in his 42 not out and struck only two fours.

Nor was it the awe-inspiring exploits in the 50-over World Cup final six weeks before that epic Ashes Test.

Under the Sydney floodlights Stokes held firm when others fell away, maintaining a calm head when others lost theirs.

When his batting partner Chris Woakes missed out on a pull with two runs needed from four balls, the pressure of the situation went up another notch.

Stokes wandered down and offered a word of encouragement to Woakes – as he had done to Jofra Archer before he bowled the famous super over in that World Cup final.

The all-rounder responded by cleanly cutting the ball to the boundary in front of the most raucous set of England fans. Coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not.

After the game, England players swatted away suggestions that they feel better – more confident and more secure – with Stokes in their team. “We have faith in everyone” was the gist of what they said.

But for fans it is different. Because of what he has done before, England supporters know anything is possible with Stokes at the crease.

Stokes has never mastered T20 cricket despite it seeming tailor-made for his powerful, jaw-dropping talents.

It is the format where statistics rule more than any other and Stokes’ – a batting average of 19.74 and a highest score of 47 not out in 41 internationals – are, at best, mediocre.

His experience of the T20 World Cup includes missing the 2014 tournament after breaking his hand punching a locker, and heartbreak at the hands of Carlos Brathwaite in the 2016 final.

However, with the bat Stokes can be relied upon under pressure like no-one else available to England captain Jos Buttler.

That is why he was recalled after a run of 568 days without a T20 international for this World Cup.

It is also the reason there was never any wavering from that decision, even when Stokes managed one double-figure score in six innings back in the team and often looked as though his touch had deserted him. One net session in Melbourne where stumps were splattered several times was particularly ugly.

“There was no questioning of him within the group,” Buttler said after Stokes shepherded England to a four-wicket win over Sri Lanka.

“He’s a proper match-winner and he showed that in a different way today.”

Stokes’ knock lasted 36 balls – the most he has faced in a T20 for England. He had never spent more time at the crease than the 59 minutes he batted in Sydney.

The situation fell into his lap – a chase of 142 at little more than a run a ball for a batter who often takes time to build, rather than being a quick-starting finisher in the mould of team-mate Liam Livingstone.

It has been said that Stokes would be better used in the top three, free to capitalise on the fielding restrictions early on but also accelerate through a longer innings, and the injury to Dawid Malan, who was unable to bat, allowed him to do just that for only the second time for England in six years.

If Malan’s groin issue rules him out of Thursday’s semi-final in Adelaide – most likely to be against India – the obvious solution would be to keep Stokes there.

It is sure to be another great occasion – and we have all been reminded how much Stokes loves those.

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