Ben Stokes and England set up a ‘grand finale’ against South Africa 

In an old-school Test victory at Old Trafford, England’s captain scored a century and took four crucial wickets

Ben Stokes: ‘the only story in town’
Ben Stokes: ‘the only story in town’
(Image credit: Stu Forster/Getty Images)

All things considered, one would’ve expected Ben Stokes to have been below his best in England’s second Test against South Africa, said Nick Hoult in The Sunday Telegraph. The match coincided with the release of Phoenix from the Ashes, an Amazon Prime documentary about Stokes and his struggles with anxiety and depression. England’s captain was thus the “only story in town”. Some “would have let the fuss distract them”. Not Stokes. At Old Trafford, it was clear he had one thing only on his mind: helping his team level the series following their defeat in the first Test at Lord’s. In his best performance since taking over the reins from Joe Root, Stokes scored a century and took four crucial wickets to propel his side to a stomping innings victory. So when the sides meet in a week at the Oval, an enthralling summer of Test cricket will get the “grand finale” it deserves.

This victory couldn’t have been more different in character from England’s four consecutive wins at the start of the summer, said Simon Wilde in The Sunday Times. Those victories (three against New Zealand, one against India) “were all salvaged from difficult positions”, and all were marked by remarkable fourth-innings run chases. This time, England “dominated the contest from first to last” – skittling South Africa out for 151 on day one, posting a formidable 415 in response, then bowling their opponents out for another low total. Largely absent was the ultra-aggressive, “hell-raising approach” that marked the first few months of Stokes’s captaincy, said Ali Martin in The Observer. Instead of “Bazball”, this was a decidedly old-school Test victory, based on “earthy, pragmatic cricket”.

While Stokes was deservedly man of the match, there were plenty of encouraging performances for England, said Tim Wigmore in The Daily Telegraph. James Anderson again “showcased his full array of gifts”, taking six wickets for 62 across South Africa’s two innings at a miserly run rate of barely two an over. It’s astonishing that, having recently turned 40, the fast bowler “still marries unrelenting control with potency”. Barely less impressive was Ollie Robinson, who returned to the side for the first time since being publicly upbraided for his lack of fitness during England’s winter Ashes tour, said Lawrence Booth in the Daily Mail. Looking much leaner (and claiming he’s now a “gym freak”), Robinson produced a devastating spell of three wickets in ten balls to finish off South Africa in their second innings. And it was a great match, too, for wicketkeeper Ben Foakes, who joined his captain in scoring a century, said Nick Hoult. Having started this summer as “underdogs” to New Zealand, India and South Africa, England are now “one more push away from beating all three”.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

England name squad for third Test

The final Test of the series against South Africa takes place at The Oval from 8-12 September. England have named an unchanged squad.

  • Ben Stokes (captain), James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Harry Brook, Zak Crawley, Ben Foakes, Jack Leach, Alex Lees, Craig Overton, Ollie Pope, Matthew Potts, Ollie Robinson, Joe Root

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.