“I’ve always had the attitude that ‘it’s never over until it’s over’.”
So says superstar Ben Stokes, who turned belief into outright brilliance at Headingley with a stupendous 135no which propelled England to a miraculous, series-levelling one-wicket victory.
Rob Key caught up with the all-rounder ahead of the fourth Test at Old Trafford to relive one of the greatest Test comebacks of all time from Stokes in his own words…
Stokes on England’s first innings 67 all out
“Those are the moments, I guess, that really test you in terms of where you are as a team. My shot was probably the worst of everyone’s, to be honest. It was absolutely dreadful but it came from walking out with a positive mindset. I was in a mindset of ‘if I get anything loose here, I’m going to attack it; they were bowling really well that bad balls aren’t going to come along as often as they normally do’.
“We had to get rid of the disappointment of that innings very quickly and turn our attention to bowling. We did well to bowl them out for 179. Stuart Broad has played 130 Tests but he still got so revved up before we went out and bowled. I’ve seen him get up for an occasion plenty of times but I’ve not seen him like he was in the huddle for quite a long time. I’m not going to repeat exactly what he said but basically he said ‘we need to bowl at these guys like we are defending 170 to stay in this Test match’. He got the big wicket of Warner straight away. He was so geed up that he didn’t really celebrate; it was more like ‘I’ve set what I’ve said and I’m going to set the platform for it.’
Stokes on his marathon day-two spell
“I’ve bowled long spells before in Test matches. The first four or five overs are the hardest because your body’s not going. You feel like you are running in really hard and whacking the ball down with everything you’ve got in your body; but then you get to that point and everything becomes a lot easier. You feel like you are jogging in and bowling at 80 per cent but it is still coming out faster. It got to a point where Joe (Root) was like ‘one more?’ and I said ‘yeah’. Then ‘one more?’
Jofra (Archer) got cramp and I said ‘I’m still fresh; I’ll just keep going’. Then there was no chance of Joe getting the ball out of my hand because everything just felt so good running into the crease and the ball was coming out exactly how I wanted it to. Those are moments when you have a chance to stand up and really show what you are about and letting Australia know that even though you are ahead we’re not going to give you a sniff.”
Stokes on waiting to bat on day three
“I think the most nervous I’ve ever been was watching Joe Root and Joe Denly bat; it just came over me all of a sudden. I had to go into the changing room and get a towel and put my head in it; I just started biting all of the thread off the towel. I think they got to a point where they made it look so easy that your thoughts just go everywhere. For about half-an-hour I’ve never ever felt that nervous before.”
Stokes on being hit by Hazlewood
“Hazlewood hit me on the grill but I didn’t have the stem guards tied on properly which is why they blew off everywhere. When you get hit the doctor comes running out but I was actually absolutely fine so I basically said ‘get off the field’.
He did ask me if he could do the concussion test, so I said ‘yeah’ but me, being me I was like ‘I’m not going to show anything here’. Australians were asking me ‘are you alright?’ I didn’t say yes or no. But then Rooty said ‘you need to tie them on because if they come off again and hit the stumps you’re going to be out’.”
Stokes on batting through to day three stumps
“One thing that I try to say to the team when we speak about batting is ‘have a plan in your head about how you are going to play before you get out there’. The whole time that I was waiting to bat I was just saying to myself that if I got in, just get through; don’t worry about runs. Keep as many wickets in hand as possible for tomorrow because that’s the crucial point. If Joe and me are still there tomorrow we’ve got a great chance of winning the Test match’.”
Stokes’ thoughts ahead of the final day
“It was very evenly poised and we knew how crucial partnerships were going to be. Every 10 runs that we knocked off that total was then putting pressure onto Australia. The partnership that I had with Jonny (Bairstow) changed the momentum back towards us massively because the runs came in quite quick time.”
England vs Australia
September 4, 2019, 10:00am
Get Sky Sports Get a Sky Sports pass Stokes on batting with Archer
“I knew Jofra was going to get peppered so I just said to him ‘how are you going to play?’ He went ‘I’m probably going to duck the first few and then take them on’. I said ‘if that’s what you are going to do, then do it’. Then Lyon came on and he tried to hit him through cover. I said ‘don’t even look at cover because that’s what he’s trying to get you to do – it’s spinning. If you are going to hit him, hit him with the spin towards that boundary.’
He went four-four and I said to him ‘we’ve got nine off the over’ and he went ‘yeah, ok thanks’. Then he went block, block. Then I actually had to go down to him and say whatever you do here, if you are going to block it or hit it, just commit to what you are doing.’ I don’t want to tell anyone how to play – unless it’s Jack Leach!”
Stokes on the last-wicket stand with Leach
“It was pretty easy with Leachy because I told him I’d take five balls an over and he’d take one. There were a couple of occasions where he had to take more than one. He knew that he just had to survive and that runs weren’t the issue, which he did very, very well. Throughout that whole partnership if someone was to have got out, I’d have liked it to be me because it’s not his job to bat like that. I didn’t want him to feel like he’d lost the game. I’ve been there in the World cup with Woody where he felt like it was his fault – it’s not his job to be there at the end and see his side home.”
Stokes on boundary-hitting
“With 70 runs needed it was obvious I’d have to hit boundaries – taking twos with everyone bat would take too long; it would give Australia too many opportunities to bowl balls at Leachy. I was being clear on where I was trying to hit my boundaries and not try anything new – stick to my strengths and not worry about the fielders.
“Playing the reverse-sweep comes from playing T20 cricket; I’m practising all these shots. It’s something that I’ve practised and have had success with. When Lyon was bowling out there in that stuff I didn’t know where I was going to hit a boundary so I just banged it.”
Stokes on not watching Leach bat
“It wasn’t that I couldn’t watch Leachy because I didn’t feel that he could do it – I just couldn’t watch. It was such a nervous thing to be a part of. When I was facing I was fine but when I wasn’t it was just so nervous. It was unbearable.”
Stokes on not being given out LBW
“When it first hit me it obviously flicked my front pad. You know as a batter if you get hit on the pad you just look out and think ‘this is out’ but, hand on heart, when I missed it I thought ‘this is going down leg’.
“A lot has been said about DRS did get it wrong but that comes back to making sure you use your reviews very well. If Australia had had one left they would have own. My personal opinion in terms of how I felt when I got hit, I genuinely thought it was sliding down leg.”
Stokes on Lyon’s fluffed run out
“I’ve got no idea why he started running down. Because I reverse swept Lyon I sort of had to get up and Leachy must have thought I was getting up to run. I just remember looking and he was close and then seeing Lyon drop the ball I was going ‘what’s going on’.”
Stokes on the winning moment
“Broady said it’s the best video he’s ever seen. The thing he loves about it most is that me and Nathan Lyon know that the game is won because the crowd haven’t even got up yet.
“Our reactions show you the complete opposite ends of sport in terms of emotion. It captured that brilliantly and the crowd who were there living that all the way through with us the players.”
Stokes on the post-match celebrations
“I was asking everybody ‘what was it like up in the changing room when that was happening’ because you want to know what all of the lads were doing. All of the superstitions were coming out. Then they actually had the partnership on an iPad in the changing room. So we all just sat around watching that. So that was pretty cool; even knowing what had happened, it was still quite a nervous watch.”
Stokes on Leach re-enacting his run
“Leachy took JRoy’s glasses and then just reenacted what he did. The bit I laughed at most was at the end of the video where he goes ‘finish it off, Stokesy’.
Stokes on the fourth Test
“Momentum is massive in sport, especially in cricket. Both teams would have gone through so many different emotions on that last day. We ended coming out on top so we’ve got the confidence of knowng that we can win from anywhere.
“We will carry that last day we had at Headingley into the first day at Old Trafford but we know that there are still two games left. What we managed to do at Headingley will only be as good as it felt on that day if we are lifting the Ashes at the end of the Oval.”