LONDON – Ben Stokes scored a magnificent fifth Test century as South Africa suffered in the absence of Vernon Philander, who was taken to hospital.
Philander had picked up what the SA team’s medical staff initially thought was a ‘tummy bug’ on the first morning.
However, hopes it was just passing through his system proved premature, with Philander again suffering on Friday, and eventually it was decided that he had to be taken to hospital for tests to ascertain what is hampering him.
In his absence, the rest of the touring team’s attack struggled to provide Faf du Plessis with the necessary control, allowing England – with Stokes very much to the fore – to seize the initiative in the match after they were bowled out for 353.
The Proteas lost opener Dean Elgar in a difficult 40-minute session leading up to tea, when he was caught behind to give Toby Roland-Jones, one of three England debutants, his maiden Test wicket.
Elgar didn’t believe he edged the ball, asking for judgement from the third umpire, but a small, scratch on ‘Snicko’ sent him on his way. That left South Africa 18/1 at tea, with Heino Kuhn not out on 10.
The muscular Durham all-rounder Stokes showed excellent temperament and technique to fashion out a fine century that he got to with a six – one of three in a row off left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj.
It was a richly deserved reward for an innings that started in difficult circumstances on Thursday under cloudy skies.
In that period with the ball seaming around, Stokes struggled to get bat on ball, but on Friday morning he was the dominant player – imposing on defence and powerful when he thrashed the ball to the boundary.
He was given plenty of opportunity to do that, especially by Chris Morris, who has been awful throughout this match – the ball to dismiss Tom Westley on the first day aside.
He bowled both sides of the wicket, offered too many freebies and allowed Stokes to find his flow at a key point of the morning’s play.
Stokes was well set on 64 at lunch and resumed along with Moeen Ali as South Africa, with a still hard second new ball, sought a quick end to England’s innings.
Moeen was dismissed shortly after the interval, given out caught behind by TV umpire Kumar Dharmasena after on-field umpire Joel Wilson had turned down South African appeals.
There was some doubt as to whether Moeen did in fact hit the ball, with the bat and pad close together by Dharmasena felt he had enough evidence to send the left-hander on his way.
Roland-Jones had some fun in a 37-run eighth-wicket stand with Stokes, where he bashed Morris for a six and a couple of fours.
Roland-Jones (25) and Stuart Broad (3) were out in quick succession, and with the last man James Anderson at the crease, Stokes opened his shoulders to power his way to a century.
The first of his hat-trick of sixes was actually caught on the long-on boundary by Faf du Plessis, but he fell on to the rope in completing the catch.
And the second six took Stokes to his hundred – a prodigious straight blow, and a third six was deposited 20 rows back over midwicket.
Stokes was eventually caught by Rabada off Morkel for 112, which came off 153 balls and included nine fours and four sixes.
Philander was only able to bowl 17 overs, picking up 2/32, while Morkel and Rabada claimed three wickets each.
Morris was the weak link in the attack, conceding 91 runs in 17 overs for his one wicket.