“I’m struggling to find words for what we witnessed out there today, it was just phenomenal,” Stokes said, after England’s second rousing win in as many Tests to mark the start of his partnership with new coach, Brendon McCullum.
“That blows away Headingley, it blows away Lord’s and the World Cup final. Just emotionally and the enjoyment of every minute I had on that field, it was incredible. In the field, it sounds stupid after 150 overs in the dirt but how everybody was just trying to come up with different plans how we were going to change the course of this game to put it back in our hands was just so enjoyable. It was it was just amazing. The whole vibe this week has been awesome. And then to come out and perform the way that we did today…
“I just can’t quite wrap my head around how we’ve chased 299 with 20 overs left on day five of the Test match when we had to bowl 15 overs this morning. That’s never going to happen again. But if it does, it is probably us who are going to do it.”
Having bowled out New Zealand just over an hour into the final morning, England were left needing 299 in a minimum of 72 overs. Alex Lees struck the first two balls of the chase for four, but their hopes took a dive with the dismissal of Joe Root – who scored 176 in the first innings – to leave them 59 for 3.
Their momentum was further checked when Lees fell for 44. But rather than dig in, England continued to attack, Stokes hitting his tenth ball for six and then twice reverse-sweeping Michael Bracewell’s offspin for four. England were 139 for 4 at tea, needing 160 from 38 overs, before Bairstow launched his extraordinary assault.
“Something we say in the dressing-room – he had his ‘Jonny eyes’ on today and when he gets those eyes on you know you’re on to something,” Stokes said. “We were hardly speaking out there to be honest. That was one of the best things I’ve ever seen, to do it in the fourth innings, chasing a big total, game in the balance, to play the way he did once he got past fifty was just mind-blowing. Phenomenal to watch.”
Bairstow and Stokes added 179 in 20.1 overs, as New Zealand’s faint hopes of forcing a win disintegrated. Had they managed to break the stand earlier, England’s plan was to just keep swinging to the end, Stokes said.
“The message just was run into the fear of what the game was rather than stand still or back away from it. I’ll say it quite simply, we were either winning this game or losing it. That was the mentality that we wanted all the batters coming in to have. It’s obviously paid off. When you have the backing of the coach and myself saying what I say about how we want to go about things, it obviously rubs off on the players in a very, very positive way. So you’re not fearing failure, if anything you’re just going out and doing what you want to do.
“This Test match will probably all be about today but you don’t win Test matches in the last session of day five without all the hard work you put in on day four. The way we bounced back with the bat after being in the field for a long time, them getting 560 or 570, the way we went about it with the bat, the rate that we scored, really allowed us to be in this position on day five. Even bowling them out for 270 on a very flat wicket was a serious effort and I couldn’t be any more proud of the way that everybody stuck at it.”
England’s victory was witnessed by packed stands, after Nottinghamshire provided free entry on the final day, and the enterprising way chimed with McCullum’s stated intentions on taking up the Test coaching job that he wanted to help revive the format.
“It’ll be hard for people not to enjoy what they’ve witnessed today, and everything over the last five days,” Stokes said. “A lot of credit has to go to Notts for what they did today, allowing free tickets and for people who had already bought tickets getting their money back. Having a full house here at Trent Bridge really does help the atmosphere.
“You can really feel the home crowd and it’ll make the opposition feel the whole world’s on top of them. If we had a half-full stadium today, it wouldn’t have felt how it did out there. It’ll be nice if some other counties take a leaf out of what they did here today, it was really cool to be a player with a full crowd.”
On the startling turnaround in fortunes, with England having won just one of their previous 17 Tests before the New Zealand series, Stokes suggested that there remained room for improvement and reiterated the commitment to aggression that has seemingly been key to unlocking the talent within a largely unchanged group of players.
“Things like this do not happen overnight,” he said. “But this couldn’t have been a better start in terms of the new way we want to go forward. We know we’re still working towards a lot of things. We’re never going to be happy with where we are. There is going to be some bad days. We’re yet to really see the bad side of the game at the moment because obviously we’ve had two results go our way, but there will be days that affect us and we’ll probably lose a game with this mindset.
“That’s probably going to be the biggest challenge for us, how we respond to adversity, how we respond to things not going our way. Now we go to Headingley 2-0 up, won the series, but with World Test Championship points to play for. We’re going to be even more positive as I said after Lord’s. I don’t know how we can be more positive than this week but we will probably try.
“With this group of players, the sky’s the limit but we could probably go further than that.”
Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick