Ben Stokes hailed England’s heroes of Hyderabad after claiming his “greatest triumph” since becoming Test captain.
Stokes has overseen some outstanding victories since taking charge almost two years ago – with record run chases at home, a historic 3-0 whitewash in Pakistan and a thrilling Ashes contest last summer – but now has a new favourite.
Facing an India side who had lost just three times on their own patch in the past decade, England somehow turned a 190-run first-innings deficit into a jaw-dropping 28-run win.
How good? 👏
A 7fer to win a Test for England on your debut 🤯
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) January 28, 2024
The biggest lead any touring team had ever previously overturned in India was just 65, by Australia all the way back in 1964.
Stokes’ vice-captain Ollie Pope was player of the match, saving the game with a stunning knock of 196, while debutant Tom Hartley forced the win with fourth-innings figures of seven for 62.
Reflecting on an unforgettable turn around at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium, Stokes said: “Since I’ve been captain this is definitely the number one win.
“We’ve been part of some amazing games over the last few years, had some incredible victories, but considering where we are and who we are playing against, this is 100 per cent definitely our greatest triumph.
“Being captain you are the one who has to come down and take all of the praise when you win or all of the bullets when you lose. The thing about winning is you obviously want to give the praise to the people who deserve it.
“This week two people in particular – Ollie Pope and Tom Hartley, amazing match-winning performances. I can only do so much and it is not me who has done this it is 10 other blokes who committed and managed to put in some pretty special things in the past four days.
“It’s amazing what you can get out individuals if you walk the walk after talking the talk.”
Hartley’s contribution must have been particularly satisfying for Stokes, who went out of his way to support the newcomer after a tough start to his Test career.
After seeing the left-arm spinner’s first ball hit for six by Yashasvi Jaiswal at the start of a costly opening spell, Stokes could have tried to shield him from further damage. Instead he gave him a long spell and plenty of support, and went back to him again frequently.
That faith came good when it mattered most, as Hartley ran through India to scupper their chase.
“It’s unbelievable, it’s not going to sink in for a while I think. I’m over the moon to be honest,” the Lancastrian told TNT Sport.
“Testament to Stokesy and Baz (Brendon McCullum), they really got around me and I lost no confidence really. They’re always ultra-positive and it’s a fantastic dressing room, one of the best I’ve been in to be honest. It’s fantastic I was able to come out and do my best today.”
Pope’s ears have been ringing for the past 24 hours with praise, with England’s sub-continental master Joe Root declaring his century an “absolute masterclass” and India coach Rahul Dravid – one of the finest players of his generation – rating it as the best example of sweeping and reverse-sweeping he had ever witnessed.
Improbably, this was his first competitive outing for six months after undergoing surgery for a dislocated shoulder.
“There’s been some long days in the gym, but these moments make everything worth it,” he said.
“I’ve felt really good but it was about getting my head around putting a big innings together. Fortunately for me that happened and with the win it means a hell of a lot more.”
England’s route to victory was all the more difficult given the knee injury which kept first-choice spinner Jack Leach to a reduced role. He was only able to offer 10 overs on the final day, compared to 26.2 from Hartley, but still took one for 33 as he battled soreness, bruising and swelling.
“He’s been an absolute warrior this week,” said Stokes.
“The output we’ve seen and the commitment he’s shown to everyone else this week is honestly inspiring.
“He is an absolute legend who epitomises what I want everyone’s focus to be on, which is the team above individual success.”