Being editor of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack is surely one of the most challenging jobs in cricket.
But in one respect preparations for the 2020 edition were probably easier than most. Looking back over the previous twelve months in cricket, the answer to most questions seemed to involve one man: Ben Stokes. Greatest Test innings? Stokes 135* at Headingley which took England to a stunning one-wicket win. Man of the Match in the ICC Men’s World Cup Final? Stokes again. Wisden-MCC Photo of the Year? Stokes, arms spread wide after hitting the winning runs at Headingley. BBC Sports Personality of the Year, yes, and the greatest accolade Wisden could offer: Leading Cricketer in the World in its 2020 edition. You might almost think Ben Stokes had won the World Cup on his own. Well, there were some other blokes who had something to do with it.
Curiously, the World Cup Final didn’t get off to the best of starts for Stokes. While England’s bowlers restricted New Zealand to 241 for 8, Stokes only bowled three overs and they were taken for 20 runs. But it was a different story when he came out with the bat. England were struggling at 71 for 3 in the 20th over, and skipper Eoin Morgan departed soon afterwards for just nine. When Jos Buttler joined him they were England’s last pair of recognised batsmen. They added 110 in just over 21 overs before Buttler fell to a stunning catch in the deep. England’s momentum faltered; Stokes looked shattered. Suddenly they needed 22 from nine balls. Stokes launched a drive out to long-on, where Trent Boult took the catch, only to step back over the boundary rope. Another six made it nine from three. Then came the overthrows - a fierce return crashing into Stokes outflung bat, speeding away to the boundary. The final runs were scampered for the tie.
Stokes, left unbeaten on 84, somehow found the strength to come straight back out for the Super Over and hit eight from the three balls he faced. Then, when New Zealand’s turn came, he had the composure amid the chaos and tumult to have a quiet word with Jofra Archer before the young paceman ran in to bowl. No, it wasn’t all about Stokes, but it would have been very different without him.