By Nick Hoult
(UK TELEGRAPH): “I thought, ‘I’ve just lost the World Cup’. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know what to do. It took me so long to get back on my feet. I didn’t want to get back up. It was like the whole world had come down on me. There weren’t any good things going through my mind. It was just complete devastation.”
Ben Stokes sums up how he felt at the end of the World Twenty20 final after Carlos Brathwaite had smashed him for four sixes to snatch victory for the West Indies over England in the most spectacular and cruel way possible in front of 50,000 fans at Eden Gardens and a global television audience of millions.
For Stokes the experience is still raw when we meet four days later in surroundings that could not be more different from last Sunday night in Kolkata, India.
A solitary sign next to the trolley park outside a branch of Waitrose in Hexham, Northumberland, is the only indication that the man who bowled the final over the World Twenty20 final is making an appearance in the store. The madness of India and a global International Cricket Council tournament has been left far behind.
But, speaking publicly for the first time since Sunday, Stokes reveals the feelings of disappointment are really only just beginning to kick in and admits it will take him a long time to move on despite the support of England fans and personal messages from the likes of Shane Warne.
“For about 40 minutes at the end of the game I knew I just had to deal with it. I had to come back out on the field, collect my medal and listen to all the speeches,” he said, speaking exclusively to The Daily Telegraph (in the UK). “I knew the cameras would be all over me to see how I was. Obviously I was gutted but I did not want to show that. I wanted to keep my head up.
“The team and management are very quick to be very supportive of you in those situations. But they couldn’t really say anything to make me feel much better. They gave me a hug and said ‘It’s all right mate’. There wasn’t really much more they could say at the time.
“Disappointment is the biggest emotion now. I remember getting the medal and thinking it’s just a runners-up medal. You don’t want it. You want the winner’s medal but then later we had two hours in the changing room and all the lads had medals around their neck and we were saying nobody can take this moment away from us. We played for our country in a World Cup final. Let’s be proud of that.
“Setbacks make you want to be better again. This will be in my mind for quite a long time and I will reflect on it for a long time. It will be a little bit of motivation to make sure this does not ever happen again. So train 10 minutes longer every now and again to get better.”
It was an extraordinary final. A thrilling game of cricket that ebbed and flowed like a Test match but crammed into three hours of high intensity sporting theatre. England were down, then they were up before their final crash.
“It didn’t spin, it was a flat wicket and boundaries were not the biggest so we knew we were 30-40 runs short. But we knew we could get them on the back foot if we took wickets, which is what we managed to do. Then we got down to the last over and that was the worst passage of cricket I played throughout the whole World Cup.”
The debate among cricket followers since Sunday has been whether it was great hitting or poor bowling. With 19 needed off six balls England should have been home and dry. The ‘win predictor’ gizmo used by the broadcaster was confidently backing England.
Stokes had bowled the final over of the New Zealand innings in the semi-final and conceded only one run (there were also two leg byes) and took two wickets.
“I knew all it would take is two big hits and it is game on again. I was just thinking about me, what I wanted to do. I knew if I got six yorkers in the block hole they were only going to get eight or nine runs maximum and we would win.”
The first ball from Stokes was too full and got what it deserved. He says there were no chats with captain Morgan. All the talking and planning took place before the over. The field was set for the yorker. The next two deliveries were better but Brathwaite managed to swing under the ball and hit them with ferocious, Stokes-like power.
“After the first six I thought ‘Oh God’ but I was backing myself. I had been in that type of situation for four weeks in all my training so it was not a case of holding anything back and thinking I hope I get this one in, because I knew I could do it.
“If I am being honest the next two balls when I let them go I thought they were in but 90 metres later the umpire had both his hands in the air. I haven’t watched it back yet because I don’t want to bring myself to do that at this stage so I don’t know how much I missed it by but as a bowler you have a feeling as soon as you let go whether or not you have got a yorker right and it felt like I had.
“I looked at the scoreboard and they needed 13 off five balls and then seven off four. I still thought if I get two balls away here and they only get two singles that leaves five off two and it is still on.”
But the third six was the killer. “It was not until they needed one off three that I knew the game was gone. When they needed seven I was still backing myself to get us over the line but I just couldn’t. It was amazing hitting. I just did not execute what I wanted to do.”
Should he have mixed it up? Bowled a wide off-side yorker, slower-ball bouncer or sharp bouncer? “I have wondered if it would have been different if I had gone four slower balls into the deck but they could have been hit for four sixes and then I would have thought why didn’t I go for four yorkers? I know that I can run up and hit my yorkers nine out of 10 times so I am not going to look back and wish I had changed anything.”
Will he bowl the death over again? “A hundred per cent. Definitely. It is something I work at a lot. Some days they go well. Some days they don’t. That was a bad day but I won’t be shying away from it. You almost want it to happen because if you nail it everyone forgets [the final].”
Stokes tweeted soon after the final thanking England fans for their support and he seems genuinely surprised not to have received more flak on social media. He is also chuffed to have had so many messages from fellow cricketers, particularly the one from Warne. He pulls out his phone to read it. “He said, ‘It is hurting at the moment. Head high. Use tonight’s match as motivation on every level so you don’t feel like this again’. Basically he was just reassuring me that everything is all right and just stick to what I have been doing.
“The support from everyone has been amazing. I reckon I get more abuse when I do well than I did on that night. It is strange. That is when I realised how much we have made England proud. It took us to lose to get everyone to say how proud they are of us and what we achieved. I think if it had been the other way around we might not have appreciated it as much.”
“When we have a start like we did with the ball we have been guilty in the past of sometimes easing off the opposition when we have got them not many for three or four and taken our foot off the gas thinking we have already won. So there was me, Rooty and Jase [Jason Roy] being a bit extra over the top to make sure we did not fall off. I had a little word with Marlon when I was at mid-off saying ‘14 for three, I can’t imagine why you are swaggering like you are’.
“That is how I like to do it. I like to be aggressive. But you can’t take away from the fact he played a big part in winning a World Cup final for his team. You have to hand credit for that. He played a brilliant innings and he did well. It is the nature of the game. Sometimes it goes over the line but that can happen when playing for your country. In a World Cup final the adrenalin is going. Emotion sometimes get the better of me but that is adrenalin and wanting us to do well.
“We did not have a beer with them afterwards but Brathwaite came up to me and asked for a shirt. He is a brilliant lad. I wanted to make sure I spoke to them and say well done because I did not want people to think I was bitter. I wished them all the best. It is about respect to the opposition. What happens on the pitch stays on it. Off it you have to let it go.”
It has been an incredible 12 months for Stokes and the England team. Part of the healing process will be acceptance that Stokes played a major role in taking a team in their infancy to the brink of a World Cup win.