A Sunday night of delight for England stretched interminably with most of its players living it up in the Melbourne Cricket Ground’s dressing room. Jos Buttler’s men had just claimed the ICC Twenty20 World Cup at Pakistan’s expense and some cricketers stepped out to speak to the media.
A Pakistani journalist spoke to Adil Rashid in a language that seemed familiar and yet vague. “Was that Punjabi,” an Indian scribe asked and the reply was: “No, it is the Pahari dialect spoken by the Mirpuris.” It was a moment that encapsulated the cricketing, social and linguistic strands that bind people split by continents but fused by a shared past.
The fusion-theme was in vogue when Rashid said: “Inside our dressing room there is inclusivity, we all come from different backgrounds but we are there for the team’s cause.” Earlier, Rashid’s leg-spin did a star-turn for England even if it was left-arm speedster Sam Curran who walked away with the accolades.
Diverse men congregating and performing in sync defined England’s march to the victor’s podium. If some had to get past migration-angst, others had to fight their inner demons and in that zone none can be bigger than Ben Stokes.
The talismanic all-rounder and England’s Test captain does give the Moses-vibe, parting seas, ushering in miracles and making fans believe that nothing is improbable on the cricketing turf.
Yet, he is equally fragile. “Look he is a champion but he is a human too, there will be anxiety,” Rashid said. There are dual threads running here that are linked to history and the mind. Leap back to the 2016 final at Eden Gardens and you will recall Ian Bishop’s iconic final remark: “Carlos Brathwaite, remember the name!” The West Indian had just clattered four sixes off Stokes in the game’s concluding over. An improbable victory was seized and Stokes sat on his haunches, hid his head within his palms and wept.
Cut to a more recent vintage and we now deal with a Stokes, who sought a break due to mental exhaustion. It takes courage to admit that athletes due to ingrained machismo tend to put on an invincible facade. Even Virat Kohli admitted to faking intensity when deep inside he was dealing with the shadows of the mind. Seen through that light, it is remarkable that despite the historical baggage and depression lurking below the surface, Stokes came back for good.
Winning the 2019 World Cup for Eoin Morgan’s men followed by some terrific exploits in Tests and now to make peace with the ghosts of the past is never easy. Stokes did precisely that and as his T20 skipper Jos Buttler said, he is a “big-match player.” To open the bowling and then to shepherd the middle-order in a nervous chase can be daunting and the pressure quadruples during a summit clash.
Hanging in there
Pakistan, mercurial and with a fantastic set of fast bowlers, can test the very best and Stokes, even if he wasn’t fluent, just hung in during the chase. “I keep looking at the scoreboard and try and stay till the end,” he had recently said, and thankfully for England, Stokes delivered on that promise.