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Ben Stokes hails 'benchmark' performance as England learn to adapt their aggression

Captain proud of manner in which England bounced back from Lord's defeat

Ben Stokes celebrates with Stuart Broad after the wicket of Aiden Markram  •  AFP/Getty Images

Ben Stokes celebrates with Stuart Broad after the wicket of Aiden Markram  •  AFP/Getty Images

Ben Stokes wants England's emphatic win in the second Test against South Africa to be the benchmark for his team.
The manner in which England squared the series at Emirates Old Trafford, with victory by an innings and 85 runs inside three days, was a profound statement after being on the receiving end of an innings shellacking at Lord's last week.
England's reaction to a first defeat this summer was always going to be instructive of how much this group truly believes in themselves, as well as the wider ethos handed down from Stokes and reinforced by head coach Brendon McCullum. After dismissing the Proteas on the opening day for 151, they amassed 415 for nine in their only innings before completing the rout on Saturday.
Stokes hailed an "amazing team performance all round", and seemed particularly comforted by the manner in which those around him stood tall and did not "take a backward step". He was player of the match with his 103 and four wickets in the match, while the established pair of James Anderson (six for 62 in the match) and Stuart Broad (four for 61) also played key roles.
But Ollie Robinson capped an impressive return to Test action, taking four for 43 in the second innings; Ben Foakes overcame his doubts for an unbeaten 113 and the under-fire Zak Crawley battled away for 38 from 101 deliveries to provide something of a platform for their total.
Even when there was a moment of doubt on the third afternoon, as Rassie van der Dussen and Keegan Petersen offered a spirited defence throughout the middle of the day, the atmosphere on the ground was of constant optimism that they would eventually get the job done.
"Cricket is about how you bat, bowl and field and I think that the way we batted, bowled and fielded this whole all game is like the benchmark of the standards of what we set," Stokes said. "The energy throughout the whole week… When Rassie and Keegan were in that partnership, where it looked like they were able to counteract everything we threw at them, the energy that the bowlers were running in with and in the field didn't drop."
Stokes also went on to praise England's approach with the bat, which has perhaps been disregarded as mere thrashing amid the hype of England's four run-chases earlier in the summer, when in fact their methods involve more consideration. That latter trait was particularly evident here, with Crawley, Jonny Bairstow (49), Stokes and Foakes weathering the storms that they encountered, particularly the variable bounce.
England's run-rate was still a brisk 3.89 overall, but Stokes was heartened to see that his batters are starting to make judgement calls of their own accord, based on how things are unfolding in front of them.
"I think what we did incredibly well with the bat was assess that we didn't feel this was a wicket where we could go out and play in the way that we spoke about," he said. "I think that is real progress for the side.
"It didn't feel like a wicket where could stand there and hit through the line because of the the variable bounce that it was offering. Some balls were going through and bouncing, some were skidding but at a good pace. But in terms of our mindset, and our intent, it was always to be positive and to get on the front foot, always look to score first.
"And I think that made our decision-making a lot better. Zak really set that game up, for me and Foakesy to be able to play in the way that we did, and it certainly shouldn't be overlooked because he absorbed the pressure in what I thought was a real positive manner.
"He always looked to score whenever that scoring opportunity presented itself, but the decision-making around leaving and playing at the reversing ball, which is obviously very, very hard to do as a batter, I thought was top-class."
Stokes also saved special praise for Anderson, who ended up moving to 951 international wickets with his three for 30 on day three, moving him to 664 in Tests. He moved ahead of Australian Glenn McGrath, who previously led the way among quick bowlers with 949. Stokes believes there is still plenty more to come.
"You know what you are going to get: a man who runs in, gives the batter absolutely nothing and is absolutely relentless in everything he does," he said.
"I said before this game started that I honestly can't see when he's going to stop. you can see him just enjoying every moment he's out there. He is 40 but he doesn't act like a 40-year-old. He's been amazing around the dressing-room. The energy that he runs in with and bowls is just incredible. And he's a testament to himself and a great ambassador for the game, especially for fast bowlers."

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor for ESPNcricinfo