Fired-up Ben Stokes Eng­land fire at The Oval

Daily News - - SPORT - STU­ART HESS

PUT it down to an act of machismo if you will, but Ver­non Phi­lan­der win­ning the man-of-the­match award up in Not­ting­ham in the sec­ond Test seemed to light a fire up un­der Ben Stokes.

Phi­lan­der pro­duced a mag­nif­i­cent all-round per­for­mance at Trent Bridge, scor­ing 54 and 42 with the bat, and claim­ing five wick­ets with the ball to help South Africa se­cure vic­tory there.

Stokes, who is very much viewed in the same bracket as Ian Botham and An­drew Flintoff in this coun­try, would have looked at that and thought, “that should be me”.

Be­fore the third Test, he spoke pas­sion­ately about Eng­land hav­ing the abil­ity to fight back and the where­withal to know when to stick and when to twist.

Rather than leave it up to his team­mates, Stokes has set the tone him­self, show­ing ter­rific pa­tience and tem­per­a­ment in ex­tremely dif­fi­cult con­di­tions on the first day to be not out on 21 when stumps were drawn un­der dark skies with the lights on.

The next day, with bat­ting slightly eas­ier, he flour­ished – smash­ing three con­sec­u­tive sixes to bring up a fifth Test cen­tury – pro­pel­ling Eng­land to a hefty first in­nings to­tal of 353.

Then, yes­ter­day af­ter­noon with the ball, he charged in from the Pav­il­ion End bowl­ing a spell that Stu­art Broad likened to the kind of thing Flintoff pro­duced in his hey­day. He roughed up Dean El­gar, who can­not be given enough credit just for sur­viv­ing that spell, blasted out Quin­ton de Kock with a yorker and then de­ceived Faf du Plessis, trap­ping him leg be­fore first ball.

“It felt like one of those in­tim­i­dat­ing spells that Flintoff used to bowl,” said Broad, “heavy and at the bats­men. It was a great pe­riod for us, to get two key bats­men out in quick suc­ces­sion.”

“With Stokesy, he’s a bet­ter crick­eter when he is in a bat­tle and fired up – the team are learn­ing how to get him in that mode more of­ten. He’s such a great com­peti­tor and he has that steely, fo­cused look about him. He was pumped up for that spell and made a big dif­fer­ence.”

Stokes doesn’t yet have the sort of folk-hero sta­tus of Botham and Flintoff. Per­haps that will come if he was to dom­i­nate an Ashes se­ries, as those two did in their prime.

He is most cer­tainly a match win­ner, one who loves play­ing against South Africa and cer­tainly is able to dom­i­nate them.

In the sum­mer of 2015/16, his dou­ble hun­dred at Newlands was an in­nings of such force that it left South Africa flat­tened, even as they played out a draw in that Test.

By the next match at the Wan­der­ers, with the se­ries on the line, Stokes’s part­ner­ship with Joe Root en­sured Eng­land had the foun­da­tion upon which Broad’s bril­liant spell was built to win that match.

Phi­lan­der hasn’t been fit in this Test so he and Stokes go­ing mano-e-mano hasn’t been pos­si­ble.

Nev­er­the­less, he’s pro­duced a gutsy ef­fort in claim­ing two wick­ets in Eng­land’s first in­nings where he was eas­ily South Africa’s best bowler, then scor­ing 10 not out, hav­ing just walked out of hos­pi­tal, while he also got through 15 overs in Eng­land’s sec­ond in­nings, even as he was dou­bling over in pain on a num­ber of oc­ca­sions be­cause of the vi­ral in­fec­tion.

Stokes and Phi­lan­der are two ma­jor cogs in their re­spec­tive teams and their bat­tle is a fas­ci­nat­ing back­drop in a se­ries that has swung vi­o­lently be­tween the two teams.

PIC­TURE: REUTERS

Eng­land’s Ben Stokes cel­e­brates trap­ping South Africa’s Faf du Plessis for lbw dur­ing day four of the third Test at The Oval, yes­ter­day.

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