Ashes 2019: Stokes says heroic Headingley innings is 'one I'll never forget'

By Sports Desk August 25, 2019

Ben Stokes said his match-winning century at Headingley was "right up there" with his role in England's Cricket World Cup triumph.

England kept the Ashes alive with a thrilling one-wicket win over Australia in the third Test - Stokes the hero after a brilliant 135 not out.

He was also England's key man in the World Cup final against New Zealand on July 14, and six weeks on from that success he was the toast of the team again, with the hosts drawing level at 1-1 with two Tests to play.

Asked how it compared to the World Cup experience, all-rounder Stokes said on Sky Sports: "It's right up there. We had to win this game to stay in the Ashes and we've managed to do it.

"We've got to move on to the next game now. We've managed to keep our hopes alive of doing the double.

"We're going to take a lot of momentum. It's nice having a break to get away and recharge the batteries and hopefully hit the ground running again in Manchester [in the fourth Test, starting on September 4].

"It's unbelievable, one I'll never forget. I'll just have to take it all in because I'm not sure that'll ever happen again. That was one of the top two feelings I've ever had on a cricket field."

Stokes said the key to his innings was the mindset to "just never give up really ... it's not over until it's over".

When last man Jack Leach came to the crease at 286-9, England were 73 runs short of their target.

Leach made one not out, as Stokes blazed boundaries around the ground, including one astonishing reverse slog-sweep for six.

Stokes said: "When Leachy came in it was pretty clear what had to be done.

"Leachy's done it before – a super nightwatchman, ended up getting 92 [in the Lord's Test against Ireland] – so I backed him knowing what he had to do.

"I couldn't watch the balls going down. I was just waiting to see what happened and ... phew, man.

"When [the victory target] got down to the 20s, I started thinking I could probably rein it in a little bit, but when it was up in the 70s, 60s, 50s, I thought I had to really try and go. I was so in the zone of what I had to do."

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    Play was stopped twice before half-time during a comfortable victory for Gareth Southgate's men on Monday, with an address over the Vasil Levski National Stadium urging an end to racist chanting before a number of Bulgaria fans were removed from the ground.

    England players informed the match officials of the discriminatory behaviour and an abandonment looked possible at one stage, although Harry Kane would ultimately round out an emphatic scoreline set in motion by Marcus Rashford's blistering opener and embellished by braces from Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley.

    Henderson exchanged words with Balakov during one of the breaks in play and was aghast when he heard the 53-year-old had stated after the game that the allegations of racism must be "proven", choosing instead to criticise the behaviour of England supporters and a pre-match focus upon a potential for racist incidents.

    "I had a few words with the manager. It wasn't acceptable – something needs to be done," the Liverpool captain told Sky Sports News.

    "He needs to apologise now, really, on behalf of the team and the fans. He knows what was going on. He was asking me what the problem was.

    "When I told him he knew what was going on, it was baffling how he didn't, really. Hopefully he looks back and apologises because anyone watching that game would be disgusted really."

    England discussed whether they should resume the match at half-time and Henderson, angered by what had transpired, took pride in their unanimous response in the face of adversity.

    "I felt angry," he said. "They're my team-mates, my friends who I've known for a long time and I share a dressing room with.

    "It was shocking to see. I was so angry at one point but the game goes on, you've got to switch the focus to the football.

    "At half-time we spoke about it, we wanted to carry on. If one person said they didn't want to go out then we wouldn't have done and that would have been it.

    "But everybody's message was we wanted to make them suffer and not make them win. I felt we did that brilliantly."

  • Kick It Out demands UEFA 'show leadership' after England players receive racial abuse in Bulgaria Kick It Out demands UEFA 'show leadership' after England players receive racial abuse in Bulgaria

    Anti-racism campaigners Kick It Out has slammed UEFA for its handling of England's Euro 2020 qualifier against Bulgaria, and its previous punishments for racial abuse.

    England's 6-0 win on Monday was halted twice in the first half, with the match seemingly set to be abandoned amid chants from sections of Bulgaria's support at Vasil Levski National Stadium, which was partially shut due to previous incidents of racist abuse from some home supporters.

    Gareth Southgate's England elected to come back out for the second half, with a group of Bulgaria fans ejected from the ground during the second stoppage.

    During the first stoppage, a message was read out over the public address system – following UEFA's three-step protocol for tackling incidents of abuse at games.

    However, Kick It Out has questioned why the protocol was not followed afterwards, while criticising UEFA's attempts at tackling racism.

    "We are sickened by the disgusting racist abuse directed at England men's team tonight by Bulgaria supporters – including TV footage which appeared to show Nazi salutes and monkey noises," Kick It Out stated.

    "We applaud Gareth Southgate, his staff and players for the actions taken in reporting the abhorrent abuse, and offer our full support to the entire squad, their families and anyone affected by those appalling scenes.

    "We are encouraged that the protocol was initially enforced by the match officials, but UEFA must explain why players weren't sent to the dressing room during Step Two, as is clearly stated in the rules.

    "TV footage also clearly shows that racist abuse continued in the second half, so it is unacceptable that Step Three was not enforced. This match should have been abandoned by the officials.

    "It's now time for UEFA to step up and show some leadership. For far too long, they have consistently failed to take effective action.

    "The fact Bulgaria are already hosting this game with a partial stadium closure for racist abuse shows that UEFA's sanctions are not fit for purpose.

    "There can be no more pitiful fines or short stadium bans. If UEFA care at all about tackling discrimination – and if the Equal Game campaign means anything – then points deductions and tournament expulsion must follow."

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