Ben Stokes is a gift to English cricket. There is no other way to put it. He is nothing short of a now-snubbed cricketing aspect of a super-sub who often makes the team a 12-member side. With the bat, ball or in the field, Stokes’s omnipresence continues to be a part of England’s victories across formats.
With 31 overs to be bowled in the session on a dead pitch – at least for the pacers – South Africa started the session slightly better placed to save the day. A little over an hour later, South Africa had 13 more overs to survive with 3 wickets in hand. That is when Stokes took the life out of the game with a knockout punch.
James Anderson had not bowled at all in the afternoon session. Getting this session started, he pulled out after just two overs. Stuart Broad had just finished a spell. Jarred back or not, a team with a bowler down had no one else than Stokes to turn to.
England needed magic and needed it quickly. In the second over of his spell, Stokes clocked around 145 kmph and beat the bat of Dwaine Pretorius thrice. One ball also kept low that was just denied by Pretorius.
With 13 overs to go, Stokes, pumped from his last over, induced the nick off Pretorius that was gulped by Joe Root at first slip. Anrich Nortje edged to a juggling Zak Crawley at third slip. Four overs later, Stokes, continuing to bend his back, made the ball to jump off a length that Vernon Philander could not keep down and fended to gully.
An innings of 47 in the first innings, a 47-ball 72 on the fourth morning that helped England to declare early, six catches in the slips to go with 3/35 to wrap up the game, Stokes robbed Dom Sibley from the man of the match award – which he himself gave away to the debutant for his hundred.
It will be up for debate whether Stokes’s magic would have helped if not for a brain-fade by Quinton de Kock. After surviving for more than a 100 balls, scoring the slowest fifty of his career, de Kock hit a half-tracker from Dom Bess, in the sixth over after Tea, straight to short mid-wicket.
Another find for South Africa in the series, Rassie van der Dussen, dug a tent at the wicket and looked un-dismissable during his 140 ball stay at the crease. With 21 overs to go, in what can only be termed as a moment of inspiration, Broad asked Anderson to move to leg-slip. Not able to control his involuntary movements, Dussen (17) played the very next ball, bowled at his pads, into the hands of Anderson. A moment that lifted the spirit in the English camp that kept diminishing until Stokes weaved his magic.
Another session where South Africa kept fighting. Another session where they gave England a sniff. Just as the debate for four day Tests is making headlines, this game continues to provide the appropriate ingredient needed for the ardent supporters of the five-day game.
The Hector to Sibley’s Achilles, Pieter Malan stood rooted to his ground, hanging his head in disbelief as his 288 ball vigil was ended by England’s golden-arm boy Sam Curran. Falling short a memorable debut Test century and a chance to save a Test for his country, Malan (84) played with an open face to a ball that jumped after pitching and guided it to none other than Stokes at second slip.
With the new-ball just three overs old, England lost the services of Anderson who spent a major part of the session in the dressing room. The cause of his trouble is still unknown. In an attempt to utilise the rough created outside for Quinton de Kock from the Kelvin Grove end, the two Joes – Denly and Root bowled 11 overs at a stretch till Tea. Apart from the odd-ball misbehaving, de Kock managed to keep both spinners at bay with a surprising shift from his usual attacking mindset.
Spinners bowled 19 of the 32 overs in the session where South Africa added 55 runs. Rassie van der Dussen fit perfectly into Malan’s shoes and is unbeaten on a 105-ball 17.
The contest of the session came towards the end when Stokes and van der Dussen exchanged glances. Stokes was keen to provide inputs on his shot selection while van der Dussen too never backed off from returning a stare.
As the battle heats up, the final session has all the makings of an epic finale.
The script for South Africa in the early morning session was going as per plan. Pieter Malan, firm as concrete in front of the stumps and the fourth innings blockathon expert, Faf du Plessis, was in control. 20 overs had been bunted down since morning at the loss of only the night-watchman, Keshav Maharaj.
Lunch was right around the corner, second new ball four overs away. It was all too simple until, du Plessis, decided to sweep Bess. The ball took the aerial route and landed in the hands of Denly. Delighted after the worst drop among all the dropped catches in Christchurch last month, Denly roared in joy, knowing the impact of the dismissal on the outcome of the match. Hanging his head, du Plessis (19) reflected that, similar to the second innings at Centurion, he has once again played a shot that could have been avoided.
Malan continued to be undeterred in the middle. Apart from a couple of LBW shouts he continued where he left off on the fourth day. Facing 78 balls in the session, he added 20 more runs and is now 83* off 271 balls.
England took the new ball as soon as it was available and bowled three overs with it before the break. Since Anderson and Broad already had a spell each in the morning, England started with Curran from the Kelvin Grove end. Bowling an over each to Malan and van der Dussen, Curran tried different angles but the pitch has limited offering to the new ball as well.
England started the day by removing Keshav Maharaj (2) early. He was trapped in front by the wily Anderson. Looking to save the Test South Africa added 44 runs in the 27-over session.