April 3, 2016: England were on the verge of becoming the T20 World Cup Champions for the second time. But, West Indies’ charismatic all-rounder had some other plans. The Caribbeans had got themselves back into the contention of becoming the Champions, thanks to Marlon Samuels’ courageous innings of 85 from 66 balls despite losing his partners continuously from the other end.
A young all-rounder Carlos Brathwaite was on strike with 10 runs from 6 balls. They needed 19 runs to win from 6 balls. Eoin Morgan had given the last over to his death overs’ specialist Ben Stokes. Despite being a non-Indian final, Eden Gardens in Kolkata was filled with spectators who were excited in anticipation of what is to come.
Before the start of the over, it seemed like England had all their bases covered. Between the overs, Samuels had a quick word with Brathwaite. He asked the young lad to aim for the hills as they needed sixes in the last over if they were to win the final.
Stokes ran in to bowl the first delivery. Misses the line, and drops it to Brathwaite’s pads. Whack! He did exactly what Samuels asked him to do. The ball went flying past the boundary line. The Caribbeans were back in the game. Now they needed 13 runs from 5 balls.
Captain Morgan had a quick word with Stokes, asking him whether he needs a change in the field or not. Little did he know that it would not matter much. Second ball, Stokes tried to pitch it in the block hole, falls short of it. MAXIMUM! The pressure was getting the better of Stokes.
Brathwaite was pumped; he was standing tall in the crease waiting for Stokes and Morgan to make plans for the rest of three deliveries. The youngster was determined and confident. He knew ‘he had to aim for the hills’. Third ball, Stokes runs in and deviates from his line and length. Same result! It was quite clear now that Stokes could not do anything but bowl the next ball and get over with proceedings. But, more humiliation was coming his way.
Fourth ball, Brathwaite needed just 1 run to win the match. Stokes bowled a pretty ordinary delivery, maybe it was because of the dew at Eden Gardens. Brathwaite had hit another six to wrap up the proceedings and take his team to second World T20 title. An emotional and angry Samuels was roaring on the field hugging his teammates. He had a few foul words for Stokes who was now on his feet on the pitch, drowned in remorse of what he had committed.
It was going to be a long night for Stokes. He had a given away a match which was halfway into the palms of England. One could easily see the tears rolling down his cheeks. Skipper Morgan came and tried to pick him up but Stokes was reluctant to face the consequence of what had occurred because of his mistakes. He gathered the courage to face the world and stood up, walking towards the English dugout.
Stokes was selected in England’s squad for their tour of India. They had a disappointing Test series as they lost to India by 4-0. The three-match ODI series was no different. They had already lost the first two ODIs. The visitors needed some inspiration on their tour before the T20 series.
The third ODI was scheduled to be held at Eden Gardens. Stokes was returning to this ground after 8 months. The ghost of past had already started haunting the all-rounder. The last time he came here, he had to endure a horror show, probably the worst day of his cricketing career.
Stokes tried to hold on to his nerves. India won the toss and elected to field first. England had got off to a flier with openers Jason Roy and Sam Billings putting up 98 runs for the first wicket. In an attempt to score at a brisk rate, skipper Morgan departed as Hardik Pandya took his wicket. Soon after wicketkeeper-batsman Jos Buttler walked back to the pavilion, thanks to Pandya again.
The responsibility to get England past 300 was on Stokes’ shoulders as wickets were falling on the other end. Stokes played himself in and then launched a brutal onslaught on Indian bowlers. He sent the ball all over the park. Stokes scored 57 runs from 39 balls which included 4 fours and 2 sixes. His strike-rate was 146.45. Because of his hard-hitting in death overs, England were able to post 321 on the board.
But the task for England was not over, India had already chase down 300-plus scores in the series. Despite losing 2 wickets early on in the innings, Indian batsmen Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh were batting well in the middle. Indian skipper Kohli had already completed his half-century and pacing his innings well, cruising towards the target.
Stokes was bowling the third over of his spell. He was sticking to a line and length outside the off stump to Kohli. On the fourth delivery, Kohli made a mistake as he attempted a flashy drive which ended up in an edge which went straight into the hands of Buttler.
Later, when Hardik Pandya and Kedar Jadhav who had shared a game-changing 104-run partnership for 6th wicket, England needed a wicket to put pressure on the batsmen. Stokes was into his second spell. Indian needed 54 in 28 deliveries. Pandya got a bit restless and tried to slog the ball towards long-on. Pandya missed the length of the ball and it went straight, rattling the stumps. He had got the breakthrough his team wanted.
Not only did he took 2 crucial wickets but bowled well in the death overs to stop the set batsman Kedar Jadhav to take the match away from them. Eventually, England won the match by 5 runs and Ben Stokes was named Man of the Match. Stokes had made the perfect comeback at the Eden Gardens; everyone wondered what was going in his mind at that point of time.
During the post-match presentaion, he said, “It was a difficult time the last time I came down here. Good captaincy from Morgan that he got my overs out of the way to ensure that I don’t come out at the end again (smiles). You get dew in India at this time of the night. We have waited for a long time to get a win here. The Test series didn’t go very well, so it’s been a long time coming. I think we forgot how it felt (to win) to be honest.”
After his performance in previous series and his skills with both bat and ball, it was expected that Stokes will bag a good deal. Speculations started before IPL Auction 2017 as trade pundits predicted the teams who would be willing to go the extra mile.
February 20, the judgement day for players who enlisted themselves to go under the hammer. Stokes was already the hot pick of the tournament. Being an all-rounder, he was supposed to be on every franchise’s list as soon as his name was announced. Franchisees started a bidding war as they wall wanted Stokes in their team.
But, it was Rising Pune Supergiants who had the last laugh as they bought him for a whopping Rs. 14.5 crores. With a bid this high, Stokes became the most expensive overseas player in the history of IPL. After a while, West Indies batsman Samuels’ name was announced. He did not get any takers. His name was announced again for bidding but still, none of the franchises seemed interested.
It was a win for Stokes as Samuels clearly said in the press conference that he did not consider Stokes to be a good bowler. By the end of IPL Auction, Stokes was again the talking point of the day. He was ecstatic to know that he had franchises fighting over him.
Stokes told a leading news website, “Seven times my base amount – that’s mental and it hasn’t sunk in yet, but pretty cool to think about I guess. Hopefully, I’ll live up to it, win a few games and deliver on what they’ve paid for me. It’s a life-changing amount of money, I can’t really say more than that. I’m really thankful and grateful for how it went this morning. I’m struggling to put it into words.”
Clearly, he seems ecstatic to play in the IPL for Rising Pune Supergiants. But again, he has already learned the lesson of ‘perform or perish’. In IPL 2017 he will be in the limelight. After this, there are only two things he can do—become an asset to his team or prove Samuels right.
P.S. He will face Carlos Brathwaite again when Rising Pune Supergiants go up against Delhi Daredevils.