en Stokes hailed England’s performance in their series-levelling innings win over South Africa at Old Trafford as their best under his captaincy, and a new “benchmark” that showed their evolution as a team.
England won their first four games under Stokes earlier this summer, but suffered a setback when thrashed in the First Test by South Africa at Lord’s last week.
Stokes hailed their response to that defeat as they set up a decider at the Kia Oval on September 8 with a thumping win, by an innings and 85 runs, in Manchester.
The captain was named player of the match having scored his 12th Test century and taken four wickets.
“An amazing team performance all round,” said Stokes. “The way in which we bounced back from the disappointment at Lord’s last week was obviously very pleasing. Cricket is about how you bat, bowl and field and I think that the way we batted, bowled and fielded this whole game is like the benchmark of the standards of what we set.
“The energy throughout the whole week. When Rassie [van der Dussen] and Keegan [Petersen] were in that partnership where it looked like they were able to counteract everything we threw at them, the energy that the bowlers were running in with and in the field didn’t drop.”
Stokes felt this was his side’s most satisfying win this summer.
“I think when you take the last game into consideration, the way that we managed to come back and play and just completely forget about that and then put the performance in that we have done,” he said.
“You could say yes, but a win is a win, you take them as they come.
“No one’s taken a backward step this week whatsoever. And coming away with the win in the way that we did.
“South Africa won the toss and batted so we were under pressure to go out there and bowl well in those very good bowling conditions. The way that we bowled in the first session taking five wickets, I think we all realise that the hard work we put in there really helped us bowl them out for 140, 150.
“We just managed to step up to the plate at every opportunity this game when we knew that we had to. Obviously, you know when you get 260 runs ahead coming into bowl the game was massively in our favour.”
Stokes was proud of the way his batters, especially Zak Crawley, who made 38, dug in and adapted to conditions, despite the team earning a reputation for stroke making in the early wins under his captaincy. Ben Foakes, who also made a hundred, was picked out for special praise.
“I think what we did incredibly well with the bat was assess that we didn’t feel this was a wicket where we could go out and play in the way that we spoke about,” said Stokes. “I think that is real progress for the side.
“It didn’t feel like a wicket where you could stand there and hit through the line because of the the variable bounce that it was offering. Some balls were going through and bouncing, some were skidding but at a good pace. But in terms of our mindset, and our intent it was always to be positive and to get on the front foot, always look to score first.
“And I think that made our decision making a lot better. Zak really set that game up for me and Foakesy to be able to play in the way that we did, and it’s certainly shouldn’t be overlooked because he absorbed the pressure in what I thought was a real positive manner.
“He always looked to score whenever that scoring opportunity presented itself but the decision making around leaving and playing at the reversing ball, which is obviously very, very hard to do as a batter, I thought was top class.
“Going on to Foakesy again, it was a match defining hundred from him batting at number seven, but then also is wicketkeeping. He took seven dismissals but away from that his keeping is just ridiculous to be honest. He’s the best in the world. He makes things look so easy and he almost stops things that you shouldn’t really be stopping, let alone catching.“
He’s amazing to have behind the stumps he gives the bowlers a lot of confidence and an obviously gives me as a captain a lot of confidence knowing that pretty much every nick he’s going to catch.”