Ben Stokes admitted expectations for his England team continue to be “blown out of the water” after polishing his remarkable captaincy record with another resounding victory in New Zealand.
The tourists eased to a 267-run win in their day/night clash at Mount Maunganui, a 10th success in 11 games since Stokes picked up the baton from Joe Root last summer.
James Anderson applied the finishing touches to a fine collective performance, claiming the last four wickets as the Black Caps were toppled for 126 in the final innings.
It was another triumph for Stokes’ transformational leadership, which has flourished fast in partnership with head coach Brendon McCullum. His punchy declaration in the 59th over of the match set in motion a chain of events that left his side controlling the tempo of the match and twice getting the best of the bowler-friendly ‘twilight’ period despite losing the toss.
Stokes is now the joint-fastest skipper to reach double figures in terms of Test wins, getting there in 12 attempts. A defeat by the West Indies while deputising for Root in 2020 is the only thing preventing him from taking the honours outright from Australian Lindsay Hassett, who last led his country in 1953.
Among Englishmen he is out on his own, Michael Vaughan enjoying the previous best run with 10 from 16, but Stokes is more than happy to share the credit.
“As much as it is me captaining the side, the team obviously have to take a lot of credit for that, even more than myself,” he said.
“I can only go out there and say ‘can we try this?’. They say yes, but they’ve then got to execute everything. Not only have I got an unbelievable bowling attack to be able to captain, but I’ve also got a seriously skilled and very brave batting line-up to watch. They’ve got to take a lot of credit for the sort of record I have as a captain.
“When I took over, I thought it would be a good opportunity for a slightly bigger change to the way the team thinks about playing Tests. But expectations just keep being blown out of the water by the performances, not only that the team are putting in but also certain individuals keep putting in over the last 10 to 11 months.”
While most of Stokes’ methods involve a new spin on the age-old format, a couple of his most trusted performers have been around for the best part of two decades.
“I think having James Anderson and Stuart Broad in the side makes captaincy a lot easier. You just throw them the ball and away they go,” he said.
“They’re setting a great example not only for us in the dressing room but for anybody who wants to have a long career in professional sport. Seeing them running in with three lions on their chest is great and I don’t really want to think too far ahead to when they might call time on their careers.”
One of the hallmarks of England’s resurgence has been an insistence on focusing on the task at hand rather than looking too far ahead, a sharp shift from the previous regime. But Stokes realises that tough decisions are likely to be coming down the track.
“It’s great to have so many world-class players to choose from, it’s probably going to end up in a selection nightmare at some point,” Stokes said.
“But I’d rather have that for myself as captain and Baz as coach. It’s something we think about going forward, the number of world-class players we have, not only here at the moment but sat at home recovering from injury or getting their workloads up.
“I don’t like to look too far ahead but I think we’ll have a good crop of players to choose from in the Ashes.”