The images of one of the greatest days in English cricket history are still vivid.
Of Ben Stokes guiding England to the brink of victory in that thrilling climax to the World Cup final at Lord’s three years ago.
The six when Trent Boult stepped on the boundary rope while taking a ‘catch’ in front of the Warner Stand.
Ben Stokes delivered a heroic performance in the 2019 World Cup final against New Zealand
He also had luck on his side as the ball deflected off his bat to the boundary when he was trying to make his ground
Stokes scored an unbeaten 84, then starred in the Super Over as England won the World Cup
His innings will live long in the memory of every English cricket supporter
The deflected last over four off Stokes bat from a Martin Guptill throw as he dived to make his ground and his apologies to New Zealand fielders for his stroke of good fortune.
The look of mixed emotions on his face when he hit a Boult full toss for a single to tie the final and take it to a Super Over when Stokes knew he could have cleared the ropes.
And then striding back out again to bat in the extra over and marshalling England to a score of 15 that was to prove decisive ‘by the barest of all margins’ on boundary count.
That tumultuous day was almost all about Stokes, certainly until Jofra Archer bowled England’s Super Over and just about won the World Cup. And the unforgettable memories from it are all the more poignant now Stokes 50-over race is almost run.
Stokes won the man of the match award for his stunning performance in the World Cup final
What a bolt from the blue news of Stokes retirement from the old limited overs format was on Monday and what an occasion Tuesday’s first 50-over game against South Africa will become on his home ground of Chester-le-Street as he bows out of one-day cricket.
Never again will we see Stokes in a 50-over World Cup. Never again will we see him lighting up a global one-day tournament as he did at Lord’s in 2019.
The good news is Stokes will be even more committed now to Test cricket after his extraordinary start as England captain in transforming a woefully under-performing team and re-energising the purest form of the game with what should be called Baz and Ben Ball.
The bad news is this is a serious blow to the longer limited-overs format that is becoming increasingly marginalised by the unstoppable march of Twenty20 cricket and the introduction of an unnecessary new format in the Hundred.
Above all, this is a serious warning to administrators that the game’s greatest players will not put up with schedules that are now full to bursting post-pandemic and we have reached what Nasser Hussain says in these pages today is cricket’s breaking point.
Stokes has only played nine one-day internationals for England since the World Cup final
He has now decided to call time on his 50-over career to focus on Tests and T20 cricket
Why else would England’s greatest player retire from the format where his country are world champions just three days after pulling out of the ECB’s hugely damaging new competition in the Hundred that is one of the biggest and avoidable causes of the fixture pile-up?
Consider this. England have crammed seven Tests and 12 white-ball internationals into this summer off the back of a hectic Ashes winter and will leave for Pakistan in September for the first leg of their busiest ever winter less than a week after their final home Test. It really is madness and Stokes will not be the first big name to rebel against it.
But he would not have taken this decision lightly. Stokes desperately wants to play in every England game and is turning his back on a format where he has scored almost three thousand runs in 104 games with three centuries. It is the white-ball cricket he is best at.
But something clearly had to give and it is understandable Stokes does not want to give up Twenty20 cricket, not when it is taking over the cricketing world and not when it will gain more and more prominence through ever burgeoning franchise leagues.
England’s schedule must come under scrutiny following Stokes’s shock retirement
As he said in his statement on Monday, he will be able to concentrate more fully now on the white-ball format of the game where, curiously, we have all too seldom seen the best of him despite his obvious all-round strengths as a Twenty20 cricketer.
Could this have been avoided? Well, Eoin Morgan told Sportsmail earlier this season that Stokes would not feature in any white-ball cricket this season. The then England captain clearly was happy not to see him until the build-up to this winter’s World Cup in Australia.
But something changed with the departure of Morgan as captain, Stokes seemingly not being able to resist making himself available for both 50-over series this summer against India and South Africa starting on his home ground on Tuesday. Now he will only make the first of those three later matches.
The reality is it has been a step too far for Stokes. The incredible high of his introduction as Test captain has been followed by a dramatic comedown as he has struggled with the bat against India and hobbled around the field nursing his long-standing knee problem.
Stokes will make his final one-day appearance on Tuesday and will want to finish on a high
He has always been one to wear his heart on his sleeve and not be afraid to make the big decision, even if perhaps a compromise could have been reached that saw Stokes just playing in big 50-over tournaments. But he would have seen that as holding someone back and there are no shortage of very good white-ball players who can stand up now.
None of them, though, will be as good as Stokes. ‘Three formats are just unsustainable for me now,’ he said in his statement.’ Not only do I feel that my body is letting me down because of the schedule and what is expected of us but I also feel I am taking the place of another player who can give Jos (Buttler) and the team their all. I have loved every minute of playing with my mates for England. We have had an incredible journey along the way.’
That 50-over journey in truth culminated in the World Cup final and Stokes has played just nine more one-day games for England in the three years since then.
It is a reflection of the game’s changing priorities but it will be one that desperately saddens everyone who still thinks of 50-over cricket as the best of all white-ball games.
At least we will always have that never to be forgotten and never to be repeated day at Lord’s. We can sincerely thank Stokes for that as he prepares for his final 50-over bow.