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Cricket World Cup 2023: Ben Stokes yet again shows why he is England's ultimate team man

The celebration, or lack of, probably said it all.

After his latest three-figured rescue act, Ben Stokes gave an almost apologetic wave of the bat and a bent finger signal to the sky - his regular tribute to his late father.

Throughout it all the helmet stayed on.

Stokes usually saves his best for when it matters most. Fighting for qualification for the 2025 Champions Trophy was not what the 32-year-old hauled himself out of one-day retirement for.

Still, Stokes' century, which set up a 160-run win over the Netherlands, was England's talisman in his purest form.

As a kid Stokes cut off a cast to play a school cup match with a broken arm and scored a hundred.

Two decades later he came back from a broken finger to captain England when Covid-19 wiped out an one-day international entire squad.

In Pakistan, when his Test party was struck down by illness, he persuaded spinner Jack Leach, a man whose career has been hit by various health problems, to play in the first Test in Rawalpindi by promising to look after him whatever happened.

England won and Leach took the final wicket as the sun set on day five.

He has been doing this all of his life.

It is, of course, Stokes' knee that is the problem these days.

A joint that is becoming cricket's version of David Beckham's metatarsal and will be cut open, hopefully fixed and sealed back up by the end of next week.

Ever since Stokes sent an Ahmedabad press conference room into a frenzy by announcing he will have surgery at the end of his tournament, many have questioned why he has not already left India.

England are out of World Cup contention but return here for a Test tour in January, after all.

That, though, is not in the Stokes mindset.

"Never leave early. Never take the easy way out. Never leave my team-mates hanging like that," he said on the outfield on Wednesday after England finally sealed their second win of this tournament.

They were words that sum up England's ultimate team man.

And, yes, the prize of defending the World Cup title Stokes did so much to win four years ago is gone, but that does not mean he arrived only when the show has left town.

England's pride has been battered over five miserable weeks in India.

Had they suffered a first ODI defeat by the Netherlands - a nation who can only afford to give contracts to four players - jobs may have become untenable.

Defeat would have been England's sixth in a row, a run they have not suffered for 14 years.

The decision - or the lack of other volunteers - that led to fielding coach Carl Hopkinson speaking to the media before the match suggested a team already pondering whether to book extra legroom on the flight home.

When England collapsed amid increasingly exuberant Dutch celebrations from 133-1 to 192-6, their fans could have been forgiven for thinking it was last week's match on repeat - or the one before that, or the one before that.

Stokes, though, held firm with an innings that cast minds back to his greatest feats - a slow start before swinging for the hills.

Stokes' first senior England tour was the 5-0 Ashes drubbing in 2013-14. Perhaps he was motivated to ensure this trip did not fall apart as that great England side did.

It also came on familiar territory. It was here in 2017 Stokes announced himself to India, before Headingley, Bristol or Bazball.

That day Stokes, aged 25, battled cramp to take Rising Pune Supergiant home with one ball to spare against Gujarat Lions.

There were fewer tattoos then, the hair was thinner, the aura not as powerful, but that fighting spirit was already obvious.

He finished 103 not out - his first century in the Indian Premier League - and finished that season as the IPL's Most Valuable Player.

Fast forward six years and Stokes was playing what could be his penultimate ODI.

Even if he does plough on for now, he must know that if England qualify then he will not make the Champions Trophy - a competition sandwiched between the next Ashes down under and five home Tests against India in the spring of 2025.

Still he battled on against the Dutch - limping, perspiring and also taking one stomach-churning blow where no man wants to be hit as he went.

Qualification will not matter to Stokes' career but it will to whoever gets the impossible job of replacing him - something he surely knows.

And while Stokes' feats have always been far more than bare statistics, this knock did tick one box left remaining on an increasingly completed checklist.

For all he did in 2019 - a catch for the ages, seven wickets and four scores over 75 even before his Lord's epic - Stokes had never scored a World Cup century.

In Pune he sealed his first with a reverse sweep that brought about more memories of his golden summer of 2019.

Forget the individual records, though, as Stokes himself would want you to. He is much more than that.

Failure to do so would be the easy way out.