LONDON (AP) — Ben Stokes has been saying sorry a lot lately.
His latest apology was to the people of New Zealand for one of the most outrageous sporting flukes that contributed to England winning the Cricket World Cup at the expense of the country of his birth.
Stokes had already broken New Zealand hearts by steering England out of early strife in the final at Lord’s, giving his adopted nation a fighting chance of victory heading into the last over.
His mighty six over midwicket left England needing nine runs to win with three balls left.
Then it happened.
Smashing the next ball deep into the leg side, he set off to run two and ensure he kept the strike. As he sprinted back to the striker’s end, he dived and stretched his bat out in a desperate bid to reach the crease. The ball, thrown in by Martin Guptill, struck Stokes’ outstretched bat and deflected 90 degrees, rolling all the way to the boundary in front of the famous pavilion at Lord’s.
It was another six for Stokes — two ran, as well as four for the boundary. He held up both hands in an apologetic gesture to New Zealand’s players.
“I said to Kane Williamson, ‘I’ll be apologizing for that for the rest of my life,’” said Stokes, who was born in Christchurch and moved to England when he was 12.
Yet Stokes, who finished regulation play unbeaten on 84, wasn’t finished there.
He came back out with England wicketkeeper Jos Buttler for the World Cup’s first ever Super Over, required because the match was tied after the regulation 50 overs per side, and struck eight runs in the first four balls. One of them was a boundary.
With the Super Over also tied, England ultimately won using the tiebreaker of boundaries scored. Stokes hit eight of England’s total of 26 and was named man of the match.
“He’s almost superhuman,” England captain Eoin Morgan said.
It felt like a day of redemption at Lord’s for Stokes, often described as the bad boy of English cricket because of a rap sheet that recently included a court case for his involvement in a street brawl in Bristol after a one-day international against the West Indies in September 2017.
Stokes knocked unconscious a man who, according to the England allrounder, was verbally abusing two gay men outside a club.
He was found not guilty by a court of affray in August last year. He was, however, handed an eight-match suspension by the England and Wales Cricket Board and fined 30,000 pounds ($38,000).
“I have already apologized to my teammates, coaches and support staff for the consequences of my actions in Bristol,” Stokes said in a statement issued in December.
“I regret the incident ever happened and I apologize to England supporters and to the public for bringing the game in to disrepute.”
Stokes spent a night in a prison cell in 2011 after being arrested for obstructing a police officer. He apologized — but was still sent home — for going out drinking with a teammate until the early hours during an England Lions tour of Australia in 2013.
He also missed the Twenty20 World Cup in 2014 after injuring his hand punching a dressing-room locker following a golden duck against the West Indies.
Indeed, Stokes hasn’t had much luck at the T20 worlds. In 2016, he was hit for four straight sixes by Carlos Brathwaite in the last over of the final against West Indies as England slumped to an improbable loss at Eden Gardens in Kolkata.
Stokes was close to tears.
“I thought, ‘I’ve just lost the World Cup,’” he said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
All is forgiven after what he produced at Lord’s on Sunday.
“It was almost written in the stars for Ben Stokes,” England batsman Joe Root said. “He’s had such a tough time, I’m so proud of him and pleased for him and his family.”
Stokes said that experience from 2016 meant there was no way he was going to put his hand up to bowl in the Super Over.
“But there was no chance I wasn’t going to bat,” he said.
“It’s fantastic,” he added. “Without the lads in the ODI team and the test team and the support from my family …. that’s all gone now.”
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80