Australia vs. England: Ben Stokes is ready for the biggest match of his career
All-rounder seeks redemption in the Cricket World Cup semi-final at Edgbaston
Australia vs. England
- What: ICC Cricket World Cup semi-final
- When: Thursday 11 July
- Where: Edgbaston, Birmingham
- Start time: 10.30am BST
- TV channel: live on Sky Sports
Ben Stokes has described the Cricket World Cup semi-final clash against Australia as the biggest moment of his career to date.
The barnstorming all-rounder has been in blistering form during the tournament, smashing 381 runs in the group stage and taking seven wickets. But the ultimate test will be how he copes with the pressure of a World Cup semi-final.
Stokes was in nappies the last time England reached such a stage of the showpiece tournament in 1992, and not surprisingly he replied in the affirmative when asked if Thursday’s clash against the Aussies at Edgbaston is the most important match he’ll have played in.
“Definitely,” said Stokes, who missed the 2017-18 Ashes series Down Under after being charged with assault. “It’s a massive occasion for us as players and as a nation. The support has been brilliant. Playing against Australia is a big occasion – in any sport. The rivalry goes way back.”
Ready for redemption
Stokes was the only player to emerge with credit from England’s limp defeat to Australia in last month’s group game. The Durham star hit 89 of his side’s 221 runs, and he says the manner of the loss still rankles.
He added: “Losing to them at Lord’s was massively disappointing, so I think there will be a bit of redemption for that, knowing we have the chance to beat them and get to that final.”
If Stokes has overcome obstacles in recent seasons, then so have two of his opponents - Australia duo Steve Smith and David Warner.
The pair were banned at the start of last year for their part in the ball-tampering scandal, but they’ve returned to the Australia set-up, albeit with a chorus of boos from English cricket fans whenever they take the field.
“I have huge respect for them for performing like they have coming back, being able to block all that out,” said Stokes.
“Respect to them for dealing with on-field pressures and the crowds, while still delivering.”
Bowling before batting
Despite his form with the bat - he is third in the England batting averages with 54.42 - Stokes says his bowling has impressed him more in the World Cup.
“It’s always nice to get runs but the most pleasing thing has been my bowling,” said Stokes, England’s most economical bowler in the tournament conceding just 4.65 an over.
“Being the fourth or fifth seamer, I sometimes put too much pressure on myself to influence the game.
“So, I spoke to them [his team-mates] about not trying to take wickets every ball – it was a clear plan to go at five or six an over and I might get a wicket doing that – that’s helped offer the team more.”
Plunkett in a good place
There was a similarly upbeat message from England seamer Liam Plunkett, the veteran of the squad, who knows this will be his last chance to win the Cricket World Cup.
“This journey we’ve been on with this group of boys now comes down to this semi-final,” said the 34-year-old, who made his World Cup bow in 2007.
“For me, being involved in England squads of the past, I never expected to win a World Cup… but with this squad the public sort of expect us to win games and series now.
“We’ve played well over the last four years, we’ve been ranked No.1, and we’re feeling in a good place.”
The final of the Cricket World Cup will be played at Lord’s on Sunday.