Australia head coach Justin Langer says he “still has nightmares” about Ben Stokes’ match-winning display in the third Ashes Test at Headingley in 2019.
The all-rounder kept England’s hopes of regaining the urn alive with his astonishing unbeaten 135, steering the hosts to a one-wicket win.
Stokes is back in the England squad for the Ashes in Australia after taking a break to prioritise his mental health.
“He’s a great cricketer, no doubt about that,” said Langer.
“I still have nightmares about his innings in that third Test.
“I probably have more nightmares about his [bowling] spell on day three of that game. He’s an unbelievable athlete and a great competitor.”
Stokes announced an indefinite break from cricket in July to focus on his mental wellbeing, as well as to recover from a second operation on a fractured finger.
He was added to the Ashes squad in October, saying he felt “much better about everything”, and took two wickets on his return in a warm-up match on Thursday.
“It’s great for the game that Ben Stokes is playing Ashes cricket, and we all love it,” added Langer.
“It’s an Australian summer and it probably wouldn’t be the same without the best players playing.
“It’s nice to see and hopefully his health is good. We welcome him here because he is one of the superstars of the game.”
Paine is ‘shattered with what’s happened’
The Ashes mark the start of a new era for Australia following the November resignation of Test captain Tim Paine.
The wicketkeeper stepped down as skipper over a historical investigation into sexually explicit texts which he sent to a female colleague in 2017, with fast bowler Pat Cummins replacing him as captain.
Paine then announced an immediate break from the game, with Langer – who recently visited him – saying the 36-year-old is “shattered” by recent events.
“He has been such an exemplary figure in Australian cricket for the last four years particularly. His life has changed, obviously. But you’d have to ask him how he’s going,” said Langer.
“It was important to see him, we talk about looking after our boys and having each other’s backs. It was a no-brainer for me to go and see him.”
He added: “We live in a world of perfectionism, don’t we? We’re a very judgmental society.
“As I said in my very first press conference when I was asked about Steve Smith and David Warner and Cameron Bancroft [after the sandpaper ball-tampering scandal in South Africa] – there’s not one person who is asking questions here, or who is on the camera here, or who is listening to this or watching who hasn’t made a mistake in their life.
“There’s not a single person. Our captain, one of the best, made a mistake and is paying a heavy price for it.
“What I see, I continually see in this job and see in the society we live in, it’s brutal. You learn your lessons, but we live in an unforgiving society. And that’s a shame.”
The five-Test Ashes series against Australia begins on Wednesday, 8 December at the Gabba in Brisbane.