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Ben Stokes: ‘Definitely our greatest triumph since I’ve been captain’

Ben Stokes described England’s unlikely turnaround win against India in Hyderabad as their “greatest triumph” since he took over as captain, and labelled Ollie Pope‘s second-innings 196 “the greatest innings that has ever been played in the subcontinent by an English batsman”.

England have won 14 of their 19 Tests since Stokes took over as captain in May 2022, a streak that has included statement victories over New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan and Australia. But Stokes believes that this 28-run win – away from home, against a side that has dominated in their own conditions for a decade – is the best of the lot.

“Since I’ve taken the captaincy on, we’ve had a lot of fantastic moments as a team,” Stokes said. “We’ve had a lot of great victories, we’ve been involved in some amazing games. But I think [with] where we are and who we’re playing against, this victory is 100%, definitely our greatest triumph since I’ve been captain.”

England’s match-winner on the fourth day was Tom Hartley, the debutant left-arm spinner, who added 34 in an 80-run partnership with Pope before running through India’s batting line-up with 7 for 62. It marked a significant transformation from the mauling he suffered on the first evening, when he bowled nine wicketless overs that cost 63.

“The gameplan there is, we’re out here for a long tour and this is going to be a long game, so I was willing to give him the longer spell regardless of what had happened because I knew I was going to have to turn back to him at some point throughout this Test match,” Stokes said. “Allowing him to have the longer spell at the start was almost justification to say: ‘You know, what I was telling you before the game started is going to happen.’

“Whether or not that was the reason to say he got seven wickets and won us the game this innings, who knows? But that was the thought process behind it and giving the people we select complete backing and not going back on the words that we speak.”

“It’s unbelievable,” Hartley said. “It’s not going to sink in for a while. I’m just over the moon, to be honest.” Asked for his thoughts after England’s first innings, he joked: “‘This is hard work!’ It was really tough out there. It didn’t spin quite as much as we thought, but testament to the coaches, Stokesy, and Baz [Brendon McCullum]. They really got around me and I lost no confidence, really. And I was able to come out and do my best out here.

“It’s fantastic in that dressing room. We can have a great day, we can have a really bad day: it is the same vibe in there. They’re always ultra-positive. There’s never a dull moment, to be honest. I’m always looking around and thinking, ‘Is there a fielder there? There was one there last ball.’ But that’s just the Stokes way and we’ve all bought into it. We’ve come out on top today, so it’s definitely working.”

Stokes said that he had learned from England’s first innings by watching Rohit Sharma’s captaincy of India’s three spinners: R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel. “It’s my first time coming out here and being in charge of a team and being a captain in these conditions,” he said. “I’m not going to lie – I actually may not seem it – but I’m a great observer of the game. I learned a lot from our first innings in the field.

“I watched a lot of how the Indian spinners operate in the field and the fields that Rohit set, and tried to take a lot of that into our innings here when we obviously had to bowl them out. I’m thrilled for everyone involved… it’s been an incredible effort by everyone, and even the people who might not necessarily have the rewards. I think everyone’s contributed to a great win.”

Stokes reserved special praise for Pope, who had not played since July following shoulder surgery and managed 153 runs in eight innings on England’s 2021 tour of India. “I’ve been lucky enough to play a lot of Test matches in the subcontinent with a certain Joe Root, and I’ve seen some pretty special innings from himself.

“But I think the situation we found ourselves in, coming in at No. 3, some of the shots that we’ve seen, just that whole innings, 190 on such a difficult wicket. He was able to manipulate the field with his sweep shots – reverse sweeps, normal sweeps – and the way he was able to rotate the strike… for me, I think that’s the greatest innings that’s ever been played in the subcontinent by an English batsman.”

Pope said that he rated his fifth Test century “head and shoulders above the other four” and described India as “probably the toughest place for a batter to come at the minute”. He was caught at slip for 1 in the first innings, and said: “I think I got a bit luckier in the second innings. I played and missed a few.

“First up, I was at peace with getting out caught at slip like I did in the first. I was focused on covering the inside edge and my pad: I knew that was a real danger ball, and if you do edge one, it’s still got to carry, and they’ve still got to catch it. I maintained that mindset and really wanted to be positive with my sweeping and reverse-sweeping as well.

“I’ve tinkered throughout my career so far… I’ve changed my technique slightly for this series specifically. I had shoulder surgery, so I’ve had a long time to prepare for this series and make some adjustments to what I produced the last time we were here three years ago. I’ve worked hard on my game and tried to tailor my technique for these conditions.”

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98

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