There were those who felt that Ben Stokes was not a big enough batsman for this England Twenty20 World Cup team, even though he spent the summer turning the Test team into a turbocharged white-ball outfit.
It is certainly not without irony that Stokes should spend the red-ball season dancing down the wicket and trying to knock Test bowling out of the park, while occupying an old-fashioned anchor role in a Twenty20 side full of expansive big hitters at this World Cup . .
“If he batted like that in the Test team, he would lose weight,” joked captain Jos Buttler after Stokes led England to another World Cup triumph with an unbeaten 52 off 49 balls as they overcame Pakistan’s 137 for eight with an over to spare. .
Ben Stokes hit the winning run as England won the T20 World Cup final by five wickets
But if Stokes has taken a rather opposite approach to England’s red and white cricket this year, one fact remains undeniable – when the chips are down, when England need a hero, their very own Superman is always there to come to the rescue.
No wonder Buttler, coach Matthew Mott and everyone else within earshot were adamant whenever anyone questioned Stokes’ role in this side.
Of course they wanted him here. Of course they wanted him in the team, even if he batted in a retro white-ball fashion that belied his long absence from T20 international cricket.
England were hugely grateful to Stokes for getting them over the line in their final group game against Sri Lanka in Sydney, playing the situation where everyone around him kept trying to clear the ropes.
The talismanic all-rounder finished with 52 not out off 49 balls to steer England home
And how grateful they were when cornered Pakistan’s Tigers looked set to emulate Imran Khan’s 1992 side when they beat England against all odds in a World Cup final in Melbourne.
Stokes changed all that. He stood his ground as the best bowling team in this tournament threw everything at the best batting line-up in Australia. How potent as Haris Rauf and Naseem Shah were on a second-hand Melbourne pitch that had plenty of turn, seam and bounce as Pakistan fought tooth and nail to defend a sub-par total.
But just as Stokes was the main man behind England’s fabled 50-over World Cup victory in 2019, and just as he was the main man in the miracle at Headingley in the Ashes series that followed, he was again the main man here.
He played the situation to perfection, rode his luck as Naseem repeatedly batted and hit the winning run at the end to the delight of an England team that has combined the 50-over and T20 world titles and can now claim to be among the greatest white balls , who have played the game.
England are the first team to host the 50-over World Cup and the T20 World Cup simultaneously
It must be said that England had a great deal of luck.
Who knows what would have happened if Pakistan spearhead Shaheen Shah Afridi had been fit enough to bowl his final two overs at a time when England still needed 41 off 30 balls and nerves were fraying?
But after bowling a ball of the 16th over, Shaheen had to walk off after aggravating the knee injury that almost kept him out of this World Cup when he caught Harry Brook on the boundary.
Coming out was the biggest contribution Brook has made to this World Cup.
Seizing their moment, Stokes and Moeen Ali hit substitute Iftikhar Ahmed for 13 runs off the remaining five balls of the over and got the momentum to take them home, although Moeen was bowled by Mohammad Wasim with the winning streak in sight.
Sam Curran was named player of the match and tournament after finishing with 3-12
What a triumph this is for captain Buttler, who has really established himself now, having taken over from a legendary predecessor in Eoin Morgan.
And what a performance this was, not just from Stokes but from the bowlers, who restricted Pakistan to an average score. Adil Rashid has been sensational in England’s last three must-win games after making a relatively quiet start to this tournament.
And he took two for 22 here to complete four for 58 in 12 overs in the last three matches. At the age of 34, he remains indispensable to this side.
More importantly, Sam Curran, the player of the tournament after taking his wicket tally to 13 with three more victims here, and the remarkable figures of three for 12, while proving beyond doubt that he is a permanent young fixture in a side. full of 30-somethings.
Stokes came in with England on the brink of collapse and again they saw them home
It is possible that Curran would not have been in England’s first-choice team here had Reece Topley not stepped on the boundary marker in a meaningless warm-up game in Brisbane and damaged ankle ligaments.
But how Curran has responded to his chance. He missed last year’s T20 World Cup due to injury but made up for it in spectacular style and will be the first bowler in England’s squad from now on.
England needed to prove they had enduring quality after their transformation from the dinosaurs of 2015 to the dynamic white-ball side of today before their key players got too old to add to the 2019 win.
Adil Rashid was again outstanding and finished his four overs with figures of 2-22
It was a triumph for Buttler’s captaincy and how lovely it was to see the players’ families celebrating with them in the Melbourne outfield afterwards.
It is a second World Cup since 2015 that prevents England from being regarded as the near-men of white-ball cricket, one that came on enemy soil at the cathedral of Australian cricket – the MCG.
Now Buttler can move forward with his new white-ball era after kicking it into gear. Thanks in no small part to the extraordinary figure of leading man Stokes.