Ben Stokes hails ‘greatest away Test win’ as England stick together in adversity

Ben Stokes hailed the selflessness of his reinvigorated England team after an extraordinary performance in the first Test in Rawalpindi, in which they overcame a bout of pre-match sickness, an unforgiving pitch, and some stout last-day Pakistan resistance to seal what he described as “one of England’s greatest away Test wins”.

In front of a rapt crowd at the Pindi stadium, Jack Leach claimed the final wicket of Naseem Shah with roughly eight minutes of daylight still remaining, as England – in their first Test in Pakistan for 17 years – recorded only their third win in the country in 25 attempts, and their first since another famous battle in the fading light in Karachi in December 2000.

“It’s just incredible,” Stokes said in the post-match presentation. “We’re pretty lost for words in that dressing room. The hard work and toil that everyone’s put in over this five days is really hitting everyone. Jimmy Anderson was saying he felt a bit emotional, so having a bloke with near enough 180 Test matches [176] feeling like that at the end of this is proof that we’ve achieved something very special this week.”

The scenes at the end of the Test were a far cry from the chaos beforehand, with England so stricken by illness on the eve of the game that officials from England and Pakistan even met to consider a 24-hour delay to the start. In the end, a decision was made on the morning of the game to carry on as planned, but not before Will Jacks had been drafted in for a debut moments before the toss, after Ben Foakes failed to recover in time.

“There’s a few things that you can plan for, but some that you can’t, which is obviously what happened to the squad a few days before the Test match,” Stokes said. “It seems a long time ago, when we were running around, wondering if we were going to start the Test match on time, so I’ve got to give the group of players a serious lot of credit for turning up a little bit under the weather.”

Jacks ended up being an unexpected star with the ball, claiming six first-innings wickets after a tour-ending injury to Liam Livingstone put a greater onus on his offspin, while Ollie Pope not only fronted up with a century at No. 3, but also put in an accomplished display as the stand-in wicketkeeper, with his seven catches including a crucial one-handed take down the leg side to prise out Zahid Mahmood in the tense closing stages.

“The crowd here this week was amazing… the reception that we got walking off the field as winners in Pakistan was very special.”

Ben Stokes hails the support in Rawalpindi

“You could go through this whole Test match and point out key individuals,” Stokes added. “But what we’ve had to deal with coming in makes this one a little bit better. We’ve got some broken bodies in that changing room, but having the lads run in like that today … as a captain, it’s amazing to see. I don’t think I’ve seen a group of players who want to put their bodies on the line as much for the other 10 guys on the field.”

Stokes himself, however, was instrumental to the team ethic. He put his own body on the line in a critical 11-over spell of reverse-swing on the final afternoon, and committed to the attacking fields that ensured that England maintained their remarkable record of claiming ten wickets in each of the 15 innings they have bowled since he became full-time captain.

However, the collective buy-in from England’s batters was perhaps the most ringing endorsement of Stokes’ leadership, as they bought into his unrelenting attacking approach that produced an unprecedented match haul of 921 runs from 821 balls across their two innings.

“I’m not going to lie, I did look quite far ahead as to how this could play out,” Stokes told Sky Sports at the close. “From day one, we were going to have to score these runs quickly. It was going to be batting error that was going to get the batsman out on this wicket, because there wasn’t any swing, wasn’t any spin. So we had to really capitalise on that fact.

“And then, as the Test match went on, it was all about somehow getting the game into a position on day five, where both teams were in a position to win the game, because I think dangling a little carrot there, with that declaration, played to our favour and gave them a little sniff.”

No-one batter epitomised the buy-in better than Harry Brook, who not only scored an 80-ball hundred in the first innings of his second Test, but then sacrificed an opportunity to go even better than that in the second innings, when he was bowled for 87 from 65 balls while trying to set up the game on the fourth afternoon.

“Those two innings were incredible to watch,” Stokes said. “He could have cruised himself to a hundred, but we had about half an hour left until the tea break. We just sent the message out, saying put your foot down now, because we’re going to declare at tea. There was no second-guessing ourselves on that, because that’s how we wanted to go into day five. We don’t want people turning the TV off, because it might be the inevitable draw.

“The selflessness that he went out there and played with… the freedom, the way he expressed his talent, was absolutely incredible. He’s one for the future. It’s always one of those difficult things, you don’t want to start talking someone up too much, but Harry’s got everything, across all formats as well. I don’t think that too many players in their second Test match have quite shown the ability of what Harry has showed there.”

After eight Tests in charge since the start of last summer, Stokes and England’s head coach Brendon McCullum have now overseen seven victories and one defeat, and each of those wins have been achieved in a thrilling, enterprising fashion that has transformed the standing of an England team that had won just one of its previous 17 up until the end of the Caribbean tour last spring.

“With myself and Brendan in charge, one thing that we do is focus on ourselves more than the opposition,” Stokes said. “We were always going to look to take the positive route, whether that be with bat or ball in hand, and try not to second-guess ourselves with what the opposition is going to offer.

“We know we’re a very exciting team and we wanted to come here to Pakistan, and carry on with our mantra of exciting cricket, and give ourselves the best opportunity to win a Test match. I’ve got no interest in playing for a draw, the dressing-room has no interest in playing for the draw.”

And as England left the field in the fading light, Stokes added that the acclaim of the Rawalpindi crowd, who had flocked to witness a thrilling finish, made all of their endeavours worthwhile.

“The crowd here this week was amazing, and I’m not going to lie, the reception that we got walking off the field as winners in Pakistan was very special. I hope that everyone in Pakistan who turned out to watch this game, appreciated the cricket that was being played, obviously not just from us, but also from Pakistan.”

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket


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