Ben Stokes believes he is in good shape with bat and ball for the “most important game” of his career.
Stokes is no stranger to the big occasion having memorably played in a World T20 final, a Champions Trophy semi-final and numerous other high-profile international and IPL matches. But he feels the chance of reaching a World Cup final and beating England’s oldest cricketing enemy on the way, add up to make Thursday’s semi-final against Australia more significant than any of them.
“Is this the most important game I’ve played? Yes, to date. Definitely,” Stokes said. “Playing against Australia is a big occasion in any sport. The rivalry goes way back. 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 in knowing we have the chance to beat them and get to that final.”
While Stokes has, at first glance, enjoyed a much better tournament with the bat than the ball, averaging 54.42 with the bat at a strike rate of 95.01, it is his bowling that has given him most satisfaction. For although he has bowled only 43.5 overs in the nine games to date and claimed a relatively modest seven wickets, he is conceding only 4.65 runs per over, making him England’s most economical bowler. The secret of that success, he feels, is understanding his role with the ball.
“The thing I have been most happy with has been my bowling,” Stokes said. “I’m in a very good place with my batting. I have just continued to work on the same things but also tried to test myself. I’m not letting up because this is the crucial moment: lose this and we’re out. I think just having the confidence of being in lots of situations over the past four years has made it easier. Batting at No. 5, I either rebuild or have to get on with the game.
“But the most pleasing thing has been my bowling. I had a chat with Eoin Morgan to get my head around my role. Being 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 a wicket every ball and instead aim at going for five or six an over. I might get a wicket doing that anyway and it’s helped offer the team more. In the last couple of years, it’s probably where I have let the team down.”
Stokes has made between 79 and 89 four times in the tournament so far, but insists he is not bothered by falling short of individual milestones. Instead, he is only motivated by contributing to team victories.
“I’m not too fussed,” he says. “I won’t walk away disappointed if I don’t get a hundred – that’s not what I’m about. I think going into a semi-final knowing all of our top four have hundreds is a great place to be. Both openers have hundreds, Joe Root and Morgs have hundreds. It’s very impressive.
“I’m massively proud [to be part of this team]. When our careers end we’ll be able to look back and say we have played with the world’s best, got to No. 1 but more importantly, played with a good bunch of people. I believe this team is the best at what they do and we’re trying to build a path for many years to come: this is what England stand for and how we want to play.
“I don’t feel like I have to prove anything to anyone except myself. [The Bristol incident] opened my eyes to a lot of things, 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.”