CAPE TOWN (AFP) – England captain Joe Root described Ben Stokes as a “golden nugget” after the all-rounder produced a match-clinching spell of bowling to secure a 189-run win inside the last hour of the fifth day of the second Test against South Africa at Newlands on Tuesday night.
The win levelled the four-match World Test championship series.
“He’s just a fantastic specimen,” Root said of Stokes, who was named man of the match after innings of 47 and 72 and three wickets for 35 in the second innings.
“You put him in a lot of different situations and he stands up to it. He’s a born match-winner. He puts the team first and gives everything to the group of players he stands alongside.”
It was not just the numbers that stacked up for Stokes. His second innings of 72 off 47 balls took the game away from South Africa, while his spell in the last hour ripped away the last of the home team’s stubborn resistance. He took the last three wickets in the space of 14 balls with a spell of fast, hostile, short-pitched bowling.
But Root said he was delighted with the way the whole team played. “It was a very pleasing performance. I thought we played really well all week. It was a great game of five-day Test cricket. We built pressure at the right times, showed patience and had the character to keep believing going into that last session.”
England still needed five wickets after tea. “We knew there would be partnerships but we never stopped believing,” said Root.
“When the chances came we took them. We were excellent in the field. We took pretty much everything which came our way. We recognised those key moments that we probably got wrong in the first Test match. For a young group of players to learn that quickly was very satisfying.”
South African captain Faf du Plessis said his team probably lost the match when they failed to capitalise after bowling out England cheaply in the first innings, eventually conceding a 46-run lead.
“We got into a position where we probably should have got a little bit more. There were a lot of small margins in this Test match.”
Du Plessis said he was proud of the fighting spirit shown by his team, who batted for 137.4 overs in the second innings before being bowled out for 248 when there were only 8.2 overs remaining.
“You never want to lose Test matches but the challenge we had to our group last night and this morning was that we will fight with everything that we’ve got to make England do anything and everything they had to beat us. They threw the kitchen sink at us.”
Du Plessis said it had been “a fantastic five days of Test cricket”.
He singled out new opening batsman Pieter Malan, who made 84 in 369 minutes, facing 288 balls, before falling to Sam Curran with the second new ball.
But he said the whole batting unit could take heart from their performance after South Africa were outplayed in three Tests in India last year. “When you look at where we were two months ago, we were very weak mentally, where we exploded in India,” he said.
“There were some real good signs for us as a batting unit in this Test match. There’s a lot of room for improvement but I feel we are improving.”
England had an injury worry when James Anderson, who took seven wickets for 63 runs in the match, did not bowl between lunch and tea on the final day, then bowled only two overs after tea. Root said Anderson had a side injury. “He will have scans and treatment. We will have to wait and see. It could just be a little niggle.”