BEN STOKES said that the 12th man of the Yorkshire crowd inspired him to produce one of the all-time great innings to keep alive England’s dream of following World Cup victory with Ashes glory.
Stokes said that the noise and support from the Headingley fans helped him to find a new level as he tired towards the end of his remarkable, series-saving six-and-a-half hour performance.
Stokes’s unbeaten 135 led England to a thrilling one-wicket win in the third Test against Australia to level the series at 1-1 with two games left.
In scorching sunshine and suffocating heat, he contributed 74 to a last-wicket stand of 76 with Jack Leach to power England home before a jubilant 18,000 crowd.
“The Western Terrace were cheering every dot ball, every boundary, and I just hope they understand how much they influenced us,” said Stokes, who struck eight sixes and 11 fours as England – left to score 359 – eclipsed their previous highest Test chase of 332-7 against Australia at Melbourne in 1929.
“Being tired, the noise and the atmosphere just gives you that extra level of adrenaline.
“You want to do it for them (the crowd) as much as anyone
“Leeds, everywhere, the fans are always behind us, and the support we get is always superb.”
Stokes’s innings followed another man-of-the-match display that helped England win the World Cup last month amid similar drama.
On that occasion he top-scored with 84 in a tied game against New Zealand at Lord’s and then helped Jos Buttler score 15 in a Super Over that was also tied before England won on boundary countback.
“It’s certainly close to topping that (the World Cup),” said Stokes.
“Walking off at the end when the whole of Headingley was standing up and celebrating was a very special moment; moments like that don’t come along very often.
“It was an amazing game to be a part of, and I’m over the moon that we’ve managed to stay in the series.
“To still be in with a chance to get the urn back is an amazing feeling going into the last two Tests at Old Trafford and the Oval.”
Stokes, 28, paid tribute to Leach, who scored one from 17 balls as England won despite being dismissed for 67 in their first innings.
At one stage Stokes could not bare to look while Leach was facing as the target came down to single figures.
“The only time I got nervous or started panicking was when it got down to single figures,” he said.
“It takes two to tango, and for a No 11 to come out under that kind of pressure and deliver when he needed to was fantastic; a lot of credit has to go to Leachy as well.
“I couldn’t watch (when he was facing). I was just waiting for the reaction of the crowd and the Australian players to see what had happened.”
Stokes joked that he had his “pitching wedge” with him after a couple of sixes only narrowly cleared boundary fielders.
He said that England would celebrate, but refocus quickly before the fourth Test in Manchester on September 4.
“One or two (of the sixes) just crept over the line, but I just tried to back myself,” he added.
“It just goes to show that it’s never over until it’s over and we’ve kept alive our hopes of doing the double (World Cup and Ashes).”
Joe Root, the England captain, said that the win would give England great confidence heading to Old Trafford, where Steve Smith is set to return for Australia after missing the Headingley Test with delayed concussion.
Beaming with pride at his post-match press conference, although visibly drained by the emotion of events, Root admitted that he was lost for words to describe Stokes’s heroics.
“For Ben to play in that manner…” he said, his voice trailing away to silence. “It was just ridiculous, wasn’t it? To have the calmness and skill to get through that was just phenomenal really.
“He also bowled pretty much 20 overs on the bounce with just a night in between, and he had an incredible Test match all-round.
“It was one of Test history’s finest games of cricket and had everything really.
“It was a great advert for Test cricket and for Ashes cricket too.”
Report: Page 7