London: England captain Alastair Cook hailed the impact of Ben Stokes as his side completed a stunning 124-run win against New Zealand in the first Test at Lord`s on Monday.
The hosts had been 134 runs behind on first innings yet, with Cook making 162 and Stokes powering his way to an 85-ball century, the fastest-ever Test hundred at Lord`s, they set New Zealand 345 to win on Monday`s fifth and final day.
It proved too much for the Black Caps, who collapsed to nought for two and 12 for three.
Then Stokes — born in Christchurch, New Zealand, but brought up in Cumbria, northern England — struck twice in two balls to reduce the tourists to 61 for five as the lively seamer captured the key wickets of first-innings century-maker Kane Williamson and Black Caps skipper Brendon McCullum.
BJ Watling (59) and Corey Anderson (75) checked England`s progress, but when they fell in quick succession the writing was on the wall for New Zealand.
“Ben Stokes played an innings of the like I`ve never seen before,” said Cook. “We had a hundred lead when he came in, and when he was out two hours later it was about 270 and I`d scored 10 of them!”
Stokes also made 92 in England`s first innings, having come in when his side were in desperate trouble at 30 for four, and Cook added: “We`ve just got to keep backing him and he`ll be a tremendous cricketer.”England came into this match on the back of a disappointing 1-1 series draw in the Caribbean, a result that led to the sacking of coach Peter Moores.
And no sooner had Andrew Strauss, England`s new director of cricket taken that decision, the former captain was in the eye of a much larger storm after maintaining Kevin Pietersen`s longstanding exile from international cricket.
“It`s been a rocky few weeks so to play with such freedom and passion, the lads are pleased with that,” Cook added.
Man-of-the-match Stokes, the 23-year-old son of former Kiwi rugby league international Ged Stokes, insisted his hundred on Sunday had been a “fluke”.
“Without doubt, it`s a career highlight,” he said after taking three for 38 on Monday.
“The whole match has been amazing. I have been striking the ball pretty well in the nets but I didn`t expect that innings. It was more of a fluke.”
Durham all-rounder Stokes added: “It was a lovely moment when I got two wickets in two balls today and the crowd were magnificent.”
In February, New Zealand humiliated England by eight wickets in Wellington en route to the World Cup final and they were on top again in the early stages of this match.
But come the end of a gripping contest they were well-beaten and 1-0 down in a two-match series ahead of the second Test at Headingley on Friday.
“Great credit to England,” said McCullum.
“Even when we were dominating they kept going and they played an enterprising brand of cricket.
“We got over 730 runs in the Test and still lost by more than 100 runs…It`s such a fine line between success and failure.”