Ben Stokes: England approach means opposing teams will now 'fear' third innings

Alex Lees played his part in giving England a positive start
July 05, 2022

England's efforts to "rewrite" how Test cricket is played will leave opposition teams fearful of how to approach the third innings, Ben Stokes said after his team pulled of a record chase of 378 against India at Edgbaston, scoring the runs at 4.93.

Stokes chose to bowl first after winning the toss, going against Test match convention, on the grounds that England had hunted down three fourth-innings chases between 277 and 299 against New Zealand in a row. His confidence was justified when England completed their highest successful chase on the fifth morning, coasting home by seven wickets despite having conceded a first-innings deficit of 132.

Brendon McCullum had said after the 3-0 series win against New Zealand that he wanted his players to go "too far" in their efforts to find out where the line was, and Stokes joked that he wanted India to get a few more in order to test England further.

"Don't know where it [the line] is," Stokes told Sky Sports. "There was a bit of me that almost wanted them to get 450, to see what we'd do.

"I said yesterday [the fourth day] after we finished the day's play, look at how teams will be viewing us at the moment, that third innings now has become a fourth innings - because they have to concentrate on how we're going to play, and they're worried about that. So to be in that position as a team, being feared before they've even finished their innings is an unbelievable place to be in. Teams don't know how to play the third innings, especially when they've got a lead."

Stokes said that the instruction from the dressing room was "not just go out there and blaze it, there are some simple things we do keep close as a team", and said that he and McCullum had placed an emphasis on enjoyment rather than worrying about results.

"It's been the most fun five weeks I've had in my career so far," Stokes said. "I don't think everyone can understand what's happened here. When you get given clarity in what you want to do and what you want to achieve, and think about bigger than results, it makes everything a lot easier. It takes away the external pressure of what international sport can throw at you. When you know what you want to go out there and do, it makes everything a lot more simple."

For the third Test in a row, tickets were given away free on the final day as crowds flocked to see what this new England team is capable of, and Stokes admitted to being surprised at how quickly fortunes had changed under his captaincy, following a run of one win in 17 Tests dating back to early 2021.

"We are trying to rewrite how Test cricket is being played, in England especially," he said. "All the different plans that we put together over the last four or five weeks, for every different situations is something we'll look to carry forward. It's not always about bowling top of off or drying up, it's how are we going to take wickets? That's what you need to do as a bowling attack, take ten wickets.

"We know that we want to give new life to Test cricket, and the way that we go about it, and the support that we've received over the last five weeks has been incredible. It's amazing, in such a short space of time, we feel like we are bringing a new set of fans to the game. Inspiring the next generation is what we want to do, this game at the moment is bigger than results for us, it's about people who come in to represent England in the future, guys who come into the dressing room after. We want to leave a mark on Test cricket."

He also acknowledged a debt to England's outgoing white-ball captain, Eoin Morgan, who oversaw a similar revival in limited-overs cricket.

"Baz and Eoin are really good mates, I spent a lot of time under Eoin's captaincy and I've taken a lot of his messaging and how he wanted the team in one-day cricket to go forward and I've brought that mentality and ethos into this Test environment and everybody's responded so well to it," Stokes said. "It's not just me and Baz, you've got to get that response from everyone else and they just flew into it head on."

Both Stokes and Joe Root paid tribute to the "sublime" opening partnership between Alex Lees and Zak Crawley, which laid the platform for England's fourth-innings charge. Lees has been a player transformed from his debut series in the Caribbean, and set the tone with a 44-ball half-century, while Crawley began to repay some of the faith invested in him with 46 - his highest score of the summer.

"Huge credit to the two lads at the top," Root said. "The way they set the platform, the way they shifted pressure straight back on to India and smashed that new ball around on a wicket that was doing a bit was incredible batting because it made the work we had to do after that a lot easier. It was a sublime partnership against a world-class attack.

Stokes added: "Jonny and Rooty are going to get the plaudits and rightly so, two amazing knocks. But a run chase, you set the precedent by what your two openers do, and what they did there was absolutely phenomenal. Watching that partnership being put together in the manner that they did it was incredible and put the momentum back to us. Playing the way they did against Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami was incredible to watch."

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