Ben Stokes believes removing the fear of failure has been behind England’s remarkable turnaround in Test cricket and a year that ended with them becoming the first team in history to claim a 3-0 series clean sweep in Pakistan.
An eight-wicket victory was secured on the fourth morning in Karachi to make it nine wins from 10 Tests under Stokes and head coach Brendon McCullum. Fittingly, the captain was out in the middle when Ben Duckett crashed the winning boundary to overhaul a target of 167 that was vaporised in just 28.1 overs.
Stokes had been trying to break a world record, attempting the 108th six of his Test career to surpass McCullum’s tally from his playing days. But while he was unable to clear the rope during the 38 minutes of play, this – plus a record series run rate of 5.5 – summed up a side freed from the burden of consequence.
Stokes, who was 35 not out with Duckett unbeaten on 82, said: “It won’t really sink in until we get home or in the new year but we understand what we’ve done is pretty special. To win 3-0 out here, it will be something to be really proud of.
“I think just releasing that fear of failure is why we’ve produced the results. When you take that burden off individuals and the team, you see players excelling and showing more within themselves.
“No one is worried about getting out. You don’t want to get out … but when that fear of failure isn’t there, you’re not tentative and you make better decisions.
“It is a great time to be in this dressing room and 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. We’ve had Jimmy Anderson smiling, which is an impressive thing in itself.”
The three romping victories – in Rawalpindi, Multan and Karachi – all came despite a virus swirling around the squad all tour, with Stokes stressing this particular challenge “shows the way we crack on and get on with things”.
It was also a tour where new stars rose. Harry Brook, 23, ended his first away Test tour as player of the match in Karachi and the series following his third century, while the 18-year-old leg-spinner Rehan Ahmed stunned everyone with seven wickets on debut and a maiden five-wicket haul.
On Ahmed, Stokes said: “It takes you back to when you’re a kid. Leg-spinners are a gem to have, they can change the game and we saw that yesterday afternoon when he bowled us to victory.
“For an 18-year-old to have the ability he does – and he’s not the finished article – it’s seriously exciting. We’ve got something good on our hands, let’s let him progress and not hold him back.”
On Brook, who said he wanted to give the selectors a migraine, the England captain added: “Yeah, thanks Brooky for the sore head. The way he has played, taken the game on, the runs he’s scored , the strike rate  he has scored at – it has been incredible to watch. He is a very switched-on man.”
The nature of England’s turnaround from last winter and the horror run of one win in 17 Tests has led to Stokes being shortlisted for the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year and naturally given rise to great hope that England may be able to regain the Ashes at home next year.
Stokes insisted he did not want to look too far ahead given England have a tour of New Zealand in February but, speaking to Sky, he added: “I obviously have my eye on the Ashes and have got little things about that in the back of my head.
“We will just continue to grow as a team, spend more time as a unit and keep having fun; playing cricket with a smile on our face and win as much as we can.”