The sport has enjoyed its most memorable year since 2005, elbowing its way into the national conversation with a constant diet of thrills and spills, from an historic World Cup win at Lord’s to a first drawn Ashes series in 47 years.
Nobody has played a bigger part in delivering magical moments than Stokes. It was his one-handed ‘Superman’ catch in the World Cup curtain-raiser that got the tournament going in style, his never-say-die innings which dragged the hosts back from the brink in the final and his all-time classic knock at Headingley that provided the highlight of a hard-fought Test campaign against Australia.
Having spent the past few months in the eye of a perfect storm, Stokes was finally able to kick back and share a beer with his England team-mates and Australian rivals as both sides came together to toast a 2-2 draw in The Oval dressing rooms.
“It has been a blast,” he said.
“There have been some incredible highs and some moments that I can hardly believe happened, but they did and I will always be able to remember what it was like being out there in the middle when we won the World Cup or won at Headingley.
“It probably hasn’t all sunk in yet, but at some point I’ll be able to look back with satisfaction at what we managed to achieve as a one-day team and a Test team this year.
“Before England had played a game this summer we knew we had the World Cup and the Ashes ahead of us and now we’re stood here at the end as World Cup winners and with a drawn Ashes series.
“It hasn’t all been plain sailing because we had to dig ourselves out of a hole in the World Cup and then we had to scrap until the very last to get that trophy, but we got it.
“The same in the Ashes, we had to fight all the way to the end to get the draw but we got it and I think that is something we can be so proud of. When things got tough, we didn’t crumble, we stood tall to the end and showed the character in our dressing room.”
Stokes is destined to go down as the central figure in the sporting dramas of 2019, but he was eager to share the credit with colleagues. He deemed Stuart Broad’s consistent performances leading the Test attack “heroic”, Rory Burns “incredible” for his efforts at opener and said of emerging star Jofra Archer: “I don’t think I’ve seen a more talented bowler in my time.”
There was also a special tribute for Jack Leach, drafted in as first-choice spinner following Moeen Ali’s loss of form. He managed 12 wickets, including two in two balls to conclude the series on Sunday, but won the public’s hearts for his brave tail-end batting.
His one not out at in a last-wicket stand of 76 with Stokes will go down in folklore, as will his habit of meticulously rubbing his glasses between balls.
“He’s been the crowd favourite the whole summer,” Stokes said. “The whole country fell in love with him.”
There were reports that Australia were less taken with his routine but they denied man of the series Steve Smith was mocking Leach when he donned a pair of glasses during celebrations at Old Trafford.
The pair happily posed for a light-hearted picture as the teams bonded on Sunday evening, with no hard feelings.
“He came to me to let me know that it wasn’t about me. I was kind of hoping it was,” Leach said of Smith.
“I thought it was a good laugh. I was very embarrassed after Headingley when the video came out of me recreating my one. I think I deserved that, to be honest.
“That’s why we got a picture together after the game with him wearing my glasses!
Leach was also able to share a joke with fellow spinner Nathan Lyon, who fumbled an easy run out that would have changed the course of the series in Leeds.
“Nathan came over and said to me, ‘How many beers do you owe me?’ I think owe him a lot,” he smiled.
“When I was batting at the end and the crowd were singing, ‘Stand up if you love Jack Leach’. I just thought, ‘What is going on?’ Sport is fickle and I guess you have to enjoy the good moments and not get too down about the bad moments.”