By Neil Leverett
- England level four-test series 1-1 after sensational 189-run win over South Africa at Newlands
- Tourists win in Cape Town for the first time since 1957, after wrapping up win with 8.2 overs remaining on Day 5
- Ben Stokes again takes Man of Match after a 47-ball, 72-run second innings stand, taking five catches, and recording figures of 3-35
NEWLANDS, CAPE TOWN – As England sensationally level the four-match series with South Africa after a thrilling victory at Newlands, what did we learn from the Second Test in Cape Town?
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Stokes roller-coaster thrills again
Ben Stokes simply does not do moribund; the quiet life is not for the Durham all-rounder, and his still relatively short career has not for one moment been met by the standard, run-of-the-mill sporting tale. In Cape Town over five gripping days at Newlands, Stokes again firmly wrestled the limelight toward himself – if it had ever been out of his grasp.
Still juggling emotions with his father Jed remaining in hospital in Johannesburg after being taken ill over the festive period, the 28-year-old Sports Personality of the Year hit 47, before taking five catches to become the first non wicket-keeping fielder to take a quintet of scalps in a single innings.
Just a short six months after Stokes implausibly led England to a win at Headingley, he then provided the vital impetus to the tourist’s second salvo with the bat, knocking 72 runs off 47 balls, before a visibly, physically and emotionally exhausted display to take two more catches at slip, and then fittingly the wicket of Vernon Philander – to scenes of English jubilation.
Stokes is rapidly becoming a great in the game before even turning 30, and having already witnessed more twists and turns and violent jolts than a day trip to Alton Towers, the Durham man’s thrill ride has not let up since the T20 World Cup final in 2016 – conquered by Carlos Brathwaite‘s final over fireworks at Eden Gardens – both on and off the field.
The paying public continue to be lavished by the bloody-minded effort of Stokes, and after another tour-de-force at Newlands, the question now is what next for the Stokes thrill ride, and can we stay on permanently?
Pressure lifted on Silverwood
Not only was Tuesday’s famous win welcomed by England, but Heam Coach Chris Silverwood, who has in recent weeks and months felt the full weight of burden since filling the shoes of predecessor Trevor Bayliss in October.
As the man tasked with leading England into a new era as World champions, the Yorkshireman saw his side flop to a 2-0 series defeat to New Zealand in the Autumn, with problems continuing for his side in regard to successive and now predictable batting collapses.
When the tourists could only muster 269 in their opening innings at Newlands – some 20-30 runs short of assumed par – a similar scoreline loomed on the horizon, before Silverwood saw his men fight back with ball and then bat, to level the series.
After a two-match series against the Black Caps, the former Essex bowling coach was forced to bat away mounting questions surrounding his proposed solutions, but here after recording his first Test win as England head honcho, the possibility of a series win in South Africa would considerably raise his stock.
That of course is still in the melting pot, but for now at least, Silverwood has broken his duck so to speak, and with the third Test in Port Elizabeth just a week away, his efforts will be full steam ahead for St. George’s Oval next week.
Sibley England’s top-order solution?
Coming in a close runner up to Stokes, Dom Sibley hinted at becoming the answer to England’s growing batting issues with an unbeaten knock of 133 not out, the platform the his side’s Day 5 heroics in Cape Town.
Denied a rare feat of carrying his bat at Newlands with England declaring in their second innings, the Surrey opener concocted a timely remedy for English maladies in the top order, with a 311-ball vigil and the perfect foil for his fellow teammates at the crease.
In just his third Test appearance after making his debut in New Zealand, the 24-year-old offered a glimpse of promise as the man who could fill the void of Alistair Cook since his retirement last summer.
Though it was Stokes who perhaps rightly claimed the honours, as the Durham man attempted to usher Sibley on at the match presentation, the latter’s maiden Test ton at just his third effort was a knock of majesty, and one which could become a fulcrum of English cricket for years to come. But, haven’t we been here before? Time will tell.
As skipper Joe Root and his band of warriors revelled in celebrations, the defeated Proteas were left licking their wounds. But as Faf du Plessis was forced to begrudgingly accept defeat to his opposite number, it was another who quietly walked off into the sunset.
Philander, playing his final Test for South Africa after a 13-year stint was left to do a lap of honour at Newlands with wife and child, as the man who played six respective stints at County level in England, was given a standing ovation by the Barmy Army in their hoards.
The Western Providence right-arm medium who took a combined 263 Test and ODI wickets in 92 appearances, ‘Big Vern’ was the silent narrative as the tourists basked in their historic victory in Cape Town, but the efforts of Philander had not gone unnoticed.
As Philander made his final bow in the sport, Anrich Nortje has shown enough to suggest his has the longevity to step into Philander’s boots – with Dale Steyn still battling with fitness. Nonetheless, the void left by Philander will be a sizeable one.
Tourists don’t do dull
Putting aside the Stokes thrill ride for one second, even away from the increasingly talismanic presence of the England man, the tourists once confirmed with indelible marker, they are sheer box office when it comes to this particular aisle of sporting theatre.
With the position of five-day Tests having come into question only days before the beginning of events in Cape Town, it was England again who were on hand to inject another shot in the arm of Test cricket.
On the heels of a summer where England won the Cricket World Cup final in a Super Over, and though failed to regain the Ashes chased their highest ever total to win a Test match at Headingley – again courtesy of super Stokes – once more the Barmy Army were spoilt with the latest dose of drama.
Even stretching back to 2005, England were chief protagonists during their storied Ashes victory on home soil – a series that still remains the greatest to ever be played. So Tuesday’s late surge to victory was perhaps no surprise, as the obdurate faces of Quinton de Kock and Rassie van der Dussen were finally broken to the catalyst of Tuesday’s drama at Newlands.
Having seen dissenters to the notion of a proposed four-day Test in the near future by the idolic figures of Virat Kohli and Sachin Tendulkar, England and South Africa highlighted the importance of a fifth day in proceedings, and as the tourists had again played their latest role in a sporting thriller, there can surely be few doubters in England’s position as must-see entertainers – for good, or indeed bad.
The Third Test between South Africa and England begins on Thursday 16 January, at St. George’s Oval in Port Elizabeth.
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