Ben Stokes believes his remarkable Headingley heroics can only be truly judged if they lead to England regaining the Ashes. Stokes compiled a sensational 135 not out as England chased down 359 to claim a one-wicket win in Leeds last week, levelling the five-match series at 1-1 after three Tests.
The all-rounder's blistering assault in a last-wicket stand of 76 alongside Jack Leach effectively secured him national-hero status – six weeks on from his man-of-the-match showing in a similarly breathless Cricket World Cup final triumph against New Zealand.
Stokes' career is increasingly one of incredible deeds – his Test best of 258 versus South Africa in 2016 another stand-out moment – but the 28-year-old thinks his latest exploits will only feel worthwhile if England takes back possession of the urn.
"At the moment, it was right up there, when we hit the winning runs," he told Sky Sports News. "I remember telling the lads at lunchtime [on Sunday] when we'd only lost the one wicket, 'Everything we've done in those two hours means nothing if we don't win this game."
"It sort of feels the same. If we don't get these Ashes back, what will it feel like? I would take real satisfaction out of that innings if we end up winning the Ashes, because I'll know it got us back into the series."
Nevertheless, Stokes appreciates he and his team-mates are playing at a momentous and potentially influential time for the sport in their homeland.
"We are very aware as a team and as players we have a responsibility to inspire the next generation of cricketers," he said. "With what we did in the first half of the summer at the World Cup, we did that. Our goal is to keep trying to improve that and keep trying to get more people into the game."
"Hopefully if we can win the Ashes then we'll see the next generation of cricketers coming out in England over the next 20 years."
Leach's part in Stokes' match-winning effort will live similarly long in the memory after the number 11 repelled 17 balls – concluding with the single that brought the scores level. The Somerset left-arm spinner frequently cleaned his glasses between deliveries and Specsavers have agreed to provide Leach with free spectacles for life after Stokes lobbied the opticians to do so on Twitter.
"That's been everywhere," Stokes chuckled. "Jack Leach cleaning his glasses is a pretty iconic picture that's been taken from that game. I've seen the video of him running down the wicket after we won that game has gone viral as well."
"He's obviously got to take a lot of credit for us being able to get over the line. Those 17 balls he faced are probably the most crucial he's ever going to have in his career."
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