Ben Stokes hails England's fun factor after 'releasing the fear of failure'

"It's a great time to be playing for England," says captain after securing 3-0 whitewash in Pakistan

Ben Stokes and Ben Duckett sealed England's win  •  Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

Ben Stokes and Ben Duckett sealed England's win  •  Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

Ben Stokes said he has never had more fun in an England shirt after guiding the men's Test side to an historic series win in Pakistan.
Victory in Karachi, achieved in 67 deliveries of day four of the third Test, confirmed a 3-0 scoreline. England have bossed at least 12 of the 13 days of play and have now won nine of Stokes' first 10 matches since becoming captain at the start of the summer. This was their third series win to boot.
Stokes was there at the end, not out on 35, alongside Ben Duckett who struck the final delivery of the series for four to move to 82 not out. The pair embraced before walking off to join their team-mates, all with beaming smiles across their faces. The guts of the work had been achieved before Tuesday, thus the celebrations in the changing room - then back at the team hotel - were far more expressive than on Monday.
Nevertheless, with a night to comprehend becoming the first team to sweep Pakistan in their own conditions, a week after they confirmed just their third series win in the country, the captain was under no illusions. In 12 years at international level, across both red- and white-ball codes, he has never enjoyed his cricket more as part of a winning side focused on entertaining the masses.
"Yeah, definitely," Stokes answered, almost immediately, when asked if this was the most fun he has had as an England cricketer. "[We are] just going out and enjoying every moment we can, whatever situation we find ourselves in.
"The first Test pitch [in Rawalpindi] was very, very flat and we just said, 'enjoy the flatness boys - let's just enjoy this challenge and see what we can do.' We've had Jimmy Anderson smiling, which is an impressive thing in and of itself down on the field.
"It is a great time to be in this dressing room and a great time to be playing for England. I'm just encouraging everyone to turn up every day and enjoy what you're doing. Obviously, it is easier to do when we are winning the way we are at the moment.
"The real test will be when things don't go so well and that will be the time to make that even more of a thing for us to take out there. But I hope we don't come to that."
Stokes, alongside head coach Brendon McCullum, have been responsible for instilling that sense of fun throughout the squad and backroom staff. In turn, players have become more expressive, bursting out of their shells to reach new heights. England's two leading run-scorers, Harry Brook (468) and Duckett (357), have come in and assumed responsibility with ease.
Meanwhile, 18-year-old Rehan Ahmed turned in a stellar performance at Karachi's National Stadium to take seven wickets on debut, including a maiden five-wicket haul. Similarly Ollie Pope, who kept in the first two Tests having originally established a role as a No. 3 under Stokes, scored 238 - at an average of 47.60 - while also taking 12 catches, and a stumping with the gloves.
"When you take that burden off individuals and the team, you see players excelling and showing more within themselves," Stokes explained. "The ambition to win and play an entertaining brand of cricket, that over-rides any fear of failure.
"You just accept [that] getting out is part of batting. I think just releasing that fear of failure is why we've produced the results."
There has also been a reinforcement of the togetherness off the back of circumstances encountered on this trip. A return to restricted living arrangements harked back to the Covid era of bubbles, but the most consistent challenge was illness. It began more or less as soon as they arrived in Pakistan, with half the squad struck down by a virus to such an extent there was a chance the start of the first Test would be delayed by 24 hours.
While that was the worst it got as a collective, the bug has remained around the group with players having to be managed by both medication and leaving the field for impromptu comfort breaks.
Mark Wood, who was ill during the first Test, which he sat out primarily because he was recovering from a pre-existing hip injury, emerged to play a vital part in the second in Multan, bowling England to a series-clinching 26-run win on the final day. It was his first match with a red ball since March of this year, having only returned from two elbow surgeries at the end of September.
Ollie Robinson was the worst affected in this final match, leaving the field after three overs on day one when nature made an untimely call. Having known he was struggling before the teams were confirmed, he reiterated to the management group that he wanted to play, regardless.
"I was pretty crook the first day," Robinson said, "but I said to Baz I really wanted to play to prove a point to everyone here, and back home, that I can play three Test matches. I got through it in the end and the 3-0 win makes it all worth it."
That commitment to the cause from individuals under duress has been a point of pride for Stokes. "When we've turned up the ground, we just crack on with the cricket, and everyone's put that to one side and concentrated on what they needed to do to win the game at the time," he said. "I don't know if being ill and winning games has any correlation to us going any further, it just shows the way we crack on and get on with things.
"I'm so proud of everyone. They got through the external stuff, with the illness that's been floating around, and everyone's put the effort in. We've had some days out in the field when the bowlers have come off drained and not feeling great. But they've rested up and then they've all turned up against the next day. Woody in particular, the role he's played while not feeling great, is a huge effort, running in and bowling as fast as he does."
Stokes believes it will take a while for the achievement of winning in Pakistan to hit home, let alone through winning all three matches. It is a sentiment shared by his teammates.
Though they are keen to live in the moment - to "be where our feet are", as Jack Leach put it during the series - the temptation to look at the next frontiers are too great to ignore. A two-Test tour of New Zealand awaits in February, followed by a home summer with a one-off Test against Ireland and then the headliner of an Ashes series against Australia.
While reticent to be drawn on specifics, particularly on how this style of play might fair against their biggest rivals, Stokes admitted a degree of excitement at what 2023 will hold. He hopes, above all else, that they face those challenges with exactly the same bravado and character they have shown so far under his watch.
"I obviously have my eye on the Ashes and have got little things about that in the back of my head," he said. "We will just continue to grow as team, spend more time here as a unit, and keep enjoying having fun, playing cricket with a smile on our face and win as much as we can."

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo