Joe Root hailed Ben Stokes as a born match-winner and “golden nugget” after the all-rounder bowled England to their first Test victory at Newlands since 1957 on a dramatic final day in Cape Town.
England’s captain was indebted to Stokes for the series-levelling victory as he followed up his record-equalling five catches in South Africa’s first innings and scintillating knock of 72 from 47 balls on day four by taking the final three wickets during a spell of three for one from 2.2 overs that sealed a 189-run win in the final hour of the second Test.
England’s first away victory since beating West Indies in St Lucia in February means they head to Port Elizabeth for next week’s third Test level at 1-1 in the four-match series.
It was never easy against a dogged South Africa batting lineup who held out for 137.4 overs. But with England needing five wickets to clinch the win heading into the final session, Stokes took centre stage after Joe Denly and Stuart Broad opened the door to victory with the wickets of Quinton de Kock and Rassie van der Dussen.
This was the 28-year-old Stokes’s latest star turn following a match-winning performance in the World Cup final against New Zealand last July and the epic unbeaten 135 that inspired Root’s team to chase down a target of 359 against Australia at Headingley in last summer’s third Ashes Test.
“He’s a golden nugget isn’t he?” said Root. “He’s a born match-winner that will always put the team first, give everything to the group of players he’s playing alongside and he’s a fantastic example to a young squad of players. When you can throw him the ball and he bowls a spell like that to win you the game after playing like he did yesterday with the bat – there’s not many sides that have a Ben Stokes in them.
“We’re very lucky to be witnessing what we are at the moment. He puts his hands up and he wants to win you a game. We’ve seen it time and time again now – but for him to keep doing it the way he has done over the last year and for it not to be just a flash in the pan is testament to how hard he works behind the scenes.”
Victory in this match comes after a start to the tour that Stokes had described as “cursed” after 11 players went down with a sickness bug during England’s defeat in the opening Test at Centurion and then the opener Rory Burns sustained a series-ending ankle injury playing football on the eve of this match.
Burns will miss the two-Test tour of Sri Lanka in March, too, after having surgery earlier this week that will rule him out for up to four months. South Africa’s second defeat at Newlands since they were readmitted to Test cricket, though, will give the tourists the belief any hoodoo has now been lifted. “I hope we can put that to bed,” said Root. “When you go through tough times as a team it can bring you together as a group of players and it really has with us.”
However, even in the afterglow of this win there was more bad news for England after James Anderson sustained a side strain. It means England’s all-time leading wicket-taker, who bowled only one over with the new ball, is a doubt for the third Test in Port Elizabeth (known as PE).
“He’s going for a scan, will get some treatment and we’ll see how he pulls up going into PE,” said Root. “It’s his side but it could be just a little niggle. We’ll wait and see.”
Another potential cloud on the horizon for England is the likelihood that Jos Buttler will be sanctioned after stump microphones picked up the wicketkeeper calling Vernon Philander a “fucking knobhead” during a heated final session. Buttler is likely to receive a fine and demerit point from the International Cricket Council for using foul and abusive language.