Box-office superstar Stokes saved his best for the last day at Newlands
Proteas / 7 January 2020, 7:53pm / Zaahier Adams at Newlands
CAPE TOWN – Virat Kohli. Steve Smith. Jasprit Bumrah. These are legends of the modern-day game. But they don't have a smidgen on Ben Stokes.
The England all-rounder is pure box-office. A superstar that has that precious ability that only a selected few have to turn a game on its head with a moment of magic.
Sometimes it’s a catch - like the five he took during South Africa's first innings. Or a knock of such brute force like his 72 was in the second innings that took the game away from the Proteas.
But Stokes kept the very best for the final afternoon when the stage was set for a hero. The enigmatic all-rounder claimed three wickets, including two off successive balls and the final wicket to send the strong contingent of English fans splattered and sun-burnt across Newlands into a frenzy.
South Africa's strong resistance had finally come been broken. The hosts had fought bravely through debutant Pieter Malan's marathon 84 off 369 balls, Rassie van der Dussen's 17 off 140 balls and Quinton de Kock's 50 off 107 balls. But Stokes was not to be denied and it was almost ironic that the last man he dismissed was Vernon Philander, King of Newlands.
“Fantastic, brilliant performance by the whole group, showed great amount of character and patience and a lot of belief. Credit to South Africa, they threw a lot back at us and made it for hard for us,” England captain Joe Root said.
“You (Stokes) can put him in every situation, plays 100% for the team and he's a brilliant role model. Brilliant senior player, keeps running in and he change a game with the bat. He's world class and deserves all the plaudits.”
England will certainly take plenty of heart from this victory. Besides Stokes' heroics, they had a group of young players like Dom Sibley, Ollie Pope and Dom Bess that have shown the talent and character to stand up in the heat of battle.
South Africa will bemoan lost opportunities where they could possibly have salvaged the game. Captain Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock's shot selection that led to their dismissals left a lot to be desired.
But at least they can look forward to the third Test in Port Elizabeth with some confidence that their own crop of new players like Malan and Van Der Dussen are adapting to the demands of Test cricket.
“What pleases me is that we've found someone at the top of the order in Pieter Malan, knows his game and he's stepped in and played of the great innings. We've shown that we've got another opener who can play Test match cricket,” Du Plessis said.
“Most of teams would come when the chips are down and fall after lunch, for me this was a huge step in the right direction, showing character and fight. Today we lost in the right way, we fought to the end, and I am proud of that.”
Both teams have a few days off to recuperate after back-to-back Test matches over the festive period and like England were after Centurion, it is now South Africa's turn to ponder where it's all gone wrong.