Calling it the most important match of his life, England all-rounder Ben Stokes looked forward to seeking redemption against Australia when the two collide in the 2019 World Cup’s second semi-final at Edgbaston on Thursday, July 11.
England have already met Australia once in this World Cup, in a group-stage encounter at Lord’s, and lost on that occasion by 64 runs. Stokes played a crucial role in that encounter, keeping England alive in the chase, before being cleaned up by a searing inswinging yorker from Mitchell Starc, eleven short of a century.
Now, England prepare to face the same opponents, after making the semi-finals for the first time in 27 years, and Stokes admitted that beating Australia on the way to the final would feel special. “Yes, to date, definitely,” Stokes said, when asked if this was the most important match of his life. “It’s a massive occasion for us as players and as a nation. The support has been brilliant. Playing against Australia is a big occasion in any sport. The rivalry goes way back, and we have the Ashes this summer, too.
— Wisden (@WisdenCricket) July 9, 2019
“Beating them is that touch better than any other team. Losing to them at Lord’s was massively disappointing, so I think there will be a bit of redemption for that, knowing we have the chance to beat them and get to that final.”
Despite the endless pool of batsmen in the England line-up, Stokes has been one of the standout performers with the bat, crossing fifty four times in nine outings. However, the all-rounder said that he is more happy with his bowling.
Stokes hasn’t taken a bagful of wickets – he has seven scalps in nine games – but he has played the role of a containing bowler efficiently, giving away runs at just 4.65 an over. As a supporting hand to the team’s frontline, strike seamers, those are impressive numbers.
“The thing I have been most happy with has been my bowling,” he said. “It’s always nice to get runs, but the most pleasing thing has been my bowling. I had a chat with Morgs [Eoin Morgan, the captain] and a few others in the team to get my head around my role.
“Being the fourth or fifth seamer, I sometimes put too much pressure on myself to influence the game. So I spoke to them about not trying to take wickets every ball – it was a clear plan to go at five or six an over and I might get a wicket doing that. That’s helped offer the team more. In the last couple of years, it’s probably where I have let the team down.”
Stokes has come a long way since the Bristol incident that threatened to derail his career. He has spoken several times in the past about how the incident has changed him for the better, and he said as much again.
“I don’t feel like I have to prove anything to anyone except myself. It opened my eyes up to a lot of things,” he said. “But I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. It’s just showing I can deliver on the biggest stage.
“Winning is the most important thing, and if you can help the team out with an individual performance, that’s all that counts. People can say good things, bad things; it just won’t bother me.”
Stokes, however, isn’t the only player who has had to deal with negativity this tournament. Two of the opposition’s best, Steve Smith and David Warner, have also had to shield themselves from unpleasant and hostile crowds right through this World Cup, where they returned after serving year-long bans for ball tampering.
“I’ve been to Australia, and it [the booing] is just non-stop. It’s part and parcel. I have huge respect for them for performing like they have coming back, being able to block all that out,” Stokes said.
“I sit with Morgs on it, it’s up to the crowd. But respect to them for dealing with on-field pressures and the crowds, while still delivering.”