Fired-up Ben Stokes England fire at The Oval
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.
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.