Redemption for Stokes as England edge past Pakistan to win T20 World Cup final

The forecasters got it wrong and England got it right, as the predicted downpour held off and it was Jos Buttler’s side who reigned in Melbourne. And inevitably it was Ben Stokes, a man who always manages to crowbar his way into a big occasion, who scored the winning run as England sealed victory by five wickets, and a second T20 World Cup title, with an over to spare.

It was Stokes, when England last reached a T20 World Cup final in 2016, who bowled the catastrophic final over that cost his side the title. It was Stokes, when England won the 50-over title in 2019, who produced the miracle innings that kept them in the game. And it was Stokes, picking the ultimate moment to score his first international T20 half-century, who ultimately won his side this one. He is a magnificent cricketer, and also an irredeemable drama magnet.

So England become the first men’s team to hold the T20 and ODI World Cups simultaneously, and in doing so become unarguably one of the great white-ball sides in the history of the game. For them to reach this pinnacle despite a string of injuries – and neither Mark Wood nor Dawid Malan, having been ruled out of the semi-final, recovered in time to play here – shows the depth of talent the country has developed. Beyond Stokes the 80,462 people present at the MCG witnessed outstanding performances with the ball from Adil Rashid and Sam Curran, but as the match tightened and tension built what was surely the decisive moment involved someone in the green shirt of Pakistan.

In what at first seemed a time for celebration, Pakistan’s chances of victory disappeared. After scoring just 137, the bowling as they attempted to defend their humble total was spirited, skilful and often terrifyingly swift. In the first six overs of England’s innings in particular, high-class seam bowling met aggressive batting in a head-on collision, and as is often the case with such crashes there were plenty of casualties.

Pakistan took the early wickets they so desperately needed as Alex Hales, Phil Salt and finally, to scenes of wild jubilation among an overwhelmingly Pakistan-supporting crowd, Jos Buttler were all dismissed in the powerplay. Hopes duly raised, from there they were simply unrelenting. Naseem Shah in particular terrorised England’s batters with a remarkable spell of fast bowling that ended scandalously unrewarded – how Stokes, for example, survived the seven balls he was unfortunate enough to face remains a mystery.

So the game remained finely balanced when, midway through the 13th over, Harry Brook slapped the ball to long-off and Shaheen Afridi took a fine catch. But instead of sprinting away in celebration the 22-year-old, only just back from a knee ligament injury, called for help. He was helped down the tunnel but soon sprinted back onto the field, and attempted to push himself through one more over; it lasted one ball. Afridi started the night with a brilliant delivery in his opening over that swung into Hales, flicked off a pad and thundered into middle stump; by the end of it he was not even fit enough to collect his runners-up medal.

Whatever Stokes was feeling as Iftikhar Ahmed prepared to complete Afridi’s over it was not sympathy. He attacked instantly and remorselessly, and when Moeen Ali hit the first two deliveries of the following over to the boundary England had scored 18 off four balls, needed 20 more off 22, and the game had tilted irreversibly in their favour. Stokes ended unbeaten on 52, and Ali 19 off 12 before falling with the finish line just six runs away.

If Stokes was ice cool as the night ended, he was anything but at the start. He bowled the opening over of the night, of which the first delivery was a no-ball and his second a wide, and when Chris Woakes bowled the following over he also started with a wide. At this point the pressure of the occasion seemed overwhelming for all involved, and it was a rather undistinguished period of play in which the batters failed to take advantage of the bowlers’ nervousness.

The fact that they came in this maelstrom makes the performances of Rashid and Curran all the more remarkable. Curran’s four overs, two in the powerplay and two at the death, brought three wickets and just 12 runs, and before the trophy was handed over he was named not only the player of the match but of the tournament.

Rashid took two wickets and conceded 22 runs, and his four overs included a wicket maiden – in the 12th over of a World Cup final, if you don’t mind. With his first ball of the night he tempted the dangerous Mohammad Haris to miscue to long-on, and he later took an excellent return catch after fooling Pakistan’s captain, Babar Azam, with his googly – not for the first time. Curran’s victims included Pakistan’s two highest run-scorers of the tournament in Mohammad Rizwan, the first wicket of the night, and Shan Masood, one of three catches for Liam Livingstone at deep midwicket.

But other than the single over when Masood assaulted the bowling of Livingstone, Pakistan failed to show consistent aggression. And when they felt they had no choice but to be more ambitious, someone tended to get out. The result was a diminutive total, the sort that, particularly against a side with England’s batting depth, only the very greatest bowling attack could possibly defend. Perhaps, in the end, they were just a slip away.