(Reuters) – Newcastle United boss Steve Bruce joked that he was willing to play Ben Stokes as a centre half after the England all-rounder’s epic century sealed a one-wicket victory over Australia in the third Ashes cricket test on Sunday.
Stokes, who lives in Durham and is a Newcastle fan, smashed an extraordinary unbeaten 135 as the hosts chased down a record target of 359 in dramatic fashion to level the five-match series at 1-1.
Bruce’s side went on to defeat Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 in the Premier League on the same day for their first win of the season and the 58-year-old said he had spent the final few minutes before kickoff in London watching Stokes’ match-winning knock.
“I don’t know what was more nervous. The last 10 minutes of the cricket or this (match). Ben Stokes can play centre half for us next week that’s for sure,” Bruce told a news conference.
“How wonderful it was to watch. (The cricket) was just on. They (Newcastle) had gone for a warm-up and there’s nothing you can do then. I usually sit and read the programme.
“But how could I not watch? The kitman was running around … saying ‘we need 27, we’ve got to put it on’. It was wonderful entertainment, worth watching. It was better than reading the programme that’s for sure.”
The win, thanks to record signing Joelinton’s 27th-minute goal, eased the pressure on Bruce following two defeats in his opening two league games after replacing the popular Rafa Benitez in the close season.
The manager was subjected to heavy criticism following Newcastle’s 3-1 loss at promoted Norwich City.
“I think we all understand criticism, but for me, a lot of it has been unjust and unfair,” Bruce added.
“The only thing you can do to quieten the storm is to find a performance. Nobody gave us a hope in hell’s chance … whoever took over from Benitez was going to get the abuse. I hope that is a line in the sand.”
Newcastle host Watford in the league on Saturday.
(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; editing by Sudipto Ganguly)