“You need maybe 5 -10 games to develop a good habit but only 15 minutes to learn a bad habit,” MS Dhoni famously quipped during India’s recent record-winning run in T20 Internationals.
Ben Stokes would readily testify.
The England all-rounder needed only a few minutes for all the good work he had done bowling at the death during the entire ICC World Twenty20 to be undone in just four balls from cricketing hell. As Carlos Brathwaite went 6, 6, 6, 6 in Hulk-smash mode, as Firspost’s Snehal Pradhan put it, the image of Stokes squatting at Eden Gardens, staring blankly into space, will long remain etched in T20 folklore.
Ben Stokes choked, there are no two ways about it. It was the biggest over of his so far impressive career and he failed to deliver. Nineteen runs to defend with the World T20 trophy on the line – all the pressure was on West Indies. Stokes just had to repeat what he had done so well in the semi-final against New Zealand, conceding five runs in his last two overs – the 18th and 20th of the innings, while picking up three wickets. He did the same in the do-or-die match against Sri Lanka at Feroz Shah Kotla, choking with a series of yorkers the hamstrung Angelo Mathews who was playing probably the innings of his life to bring Sri Lanka within touching distance of a remarkable comeback victory.
Not on Sunday though. Stokes bowled four bad balls to Brathwaite, the man who came swinging at him with the long handle. Overpitched on the pads – deposited over fine leg. Overpitched on the stumps – hit over long on, followed by one over long off and then back over long-on. As Ian Bishop was understandably going crazy in the commentary box – ‘Carlos Brathwaite! Carlos Brathwaite! Remember the name! History for the West Indies!’ – Stokes was in tears. The world got to view one of the greatest ever finishes to a cricket match, but it came at the expense of a bowler who suffered a meltdown.
“Stokes is a nervous laddie, so what I told Braithwaite is to just hold his pose, and he's going to bowl a couple of full tosses, as always, and it will work in our favour,” Samuels said after the match, his feet on the media conference table. "And he played a brilliant knock at the end there to give me a little break down."
Samuels also mentioned how Stokes had been chatting him up throughout the night and how he ‘never learns’ from his past mistakes. Tongue-in-cheek it might have been but Stokes must do exactly that. This was a learning curve, a painful, heart-breaking one at that. But a learning experience nonetheless.
Sports offer these wonderful opportunities for a player to bounce back. Heroes turn villains overnight, but so can villains. It’s a fickle beast.
Just ask Misbah-ul Haq who played a shot he probably still regrets, to see Pakistan snatch defeat from the jaws of victory before going on to become a talismanic cricketer. Ask Didier Drogba who was sanctioned and vilified for his foul-mouthed tirade after Chelsea’s unceremonious exit from Champions League in 2009 before going on to win the title that the club so craved, on that famous night against Bayern Munich in 2012.
Just ask David Beckham who was red-carded for kicking at Argentina's Diego Simeone in 1998 FIFA World Cup and found the net from the spot against the same opponents in 2002. Just ask American Football great Peyton Manning, who saw his side Denver Broncos get crushed in the Super Bowl 43-8, only to return to the biggest stage again in 2016 to win the championship, aged 39.
Just ask Stuart Broad who, after that six-ball-six mauling at the hands of Yuvraj Singh in 2007 went on to become one England’s finest fast bowlers. The examples are countless. For the mentally strong, the sporting gods always offer a way to complete a full circle.
As much as the successes an athlete achieves in the sporting arena, it’s the response to setbacks that make the truly great stand apart from also-rans.
That and a team that believes in your abilities.
“It's quite simple from my point of view," said captain Eoin Morgan after the match. "(Stokes) is going to be devastated, and it'll take its toll over the next couple of days but we share everything that we do, we stick together as a side, we share the pain, we share the success, now and in the future.
"Overwhelmed by all the support of everyone after a disappointing last over," Stokes himself tweeted after the match. "So proud to of represented my country in a World Cup final." Deep down, he will — he should — know that the loss was down to his last over, and there should be no greater driving force for him to bounce back.
For the majority of the 19 overs before that, the night belonged to England. They were on the brink of their second world title, a little over a year after being the laughing stock of the cricketing world after yet another early exit from a World Cup. It was not to be.
But nights like these, moments like these make heroes. Heroes of the moment – like Brathwaite and Marlon Samuels. But not just that. This gives Stokes the chance to chart his own recovery. His road to redemption – whenever that happens in the future – has already begun at the Eden Gardens on a humid Sunday night in April 2016.
Let us have the hero of the night, Carlos Brathwaite, have the final word on Stokes. He said this in an interview to ESPNCricinfo.