Joe Root heaped more praise on Ben Stokes after playing a starring role to draw England level in their Test series in South Africa yesterday.
England won the second Test at Cape Town’s beautiful Newlands ground by 189 runs late on day five – with only 8.2 overs remaining – having lost the Boxing Day opener at Centurion.
Despite Dom Sibley’s maiden Test century in the second innings of his fourth Test, Stokes claimed the man-of-the-match award for a fabulous all-round contribution to add a further chapter to a stunning last eight months.
In the second innings, as England set up a victory target of 438, Stokes hit 72 from 47 balls.
He also took six catches in the match and claimed the last three wickets to wrap up a memorable away win which flies in the face of the ICC’s discussions about potential four-day Tests.
“I thought it was a brilliant performance, throughout the whole five days,” said captain Root. “We had to work extremely hard; credit to South Africa, they made it very difficult for us and played some good cricket.
“But the guys really stood up and put in a real team effort, summed up by the way Stokesy finished things off. He makes things happen. He’s that golden nugget in our side.”
South Africa dug in hard late on day four and through the majority of day five in a desperate bid to preserve their lead in the four-match series.
But England were dominant and deserved their success, playing to the patient blueprint Yorkshire bowler Matthew Fisher talked about when previewing this fixture.
Continuing in his praise of Stokes, Root said: “It doesn’t happen by accident. He works bloody hard, and that’s a great example to the young guys coming into the side, seeing what Test cricket is like and how different it is to county cricket.
“That’s what has really pleased me about this week and made me really proud – a very young set of lads, they’re having to learn on their feet and stand up.”
Stokes said in his man-of-the-match acceptance speech that he felt the award should have gone to Warwickshire opener Sibley following his excellent 133 not out, even politely declining the trophy on offer and admitting he would pass it to his team-mate.
Sibley, Zak Crawley and former Yorkshire loanee Dom Bess, all players in the infancy of their Test careers, all contributed significantly.
Root, in his interview with Sky Sports, said: “That’s how we see Sibley play for Warwickshire in the County Championship. One of his great strengths is his patience.
“He treats every ball on merit, he doesn’t get flustered, doesn’t get away from his game plan and backs himself.
“To score a hundred in the second innings of any Test Match is impressive, and for it to be your first one, I’m really proud of him.
“I’ve also learnt Zak’s a very good slip fielder and has great hands, for a start.
“One thing you’ve got to very careful of, coming into Test cricket, is over-analysing things, especially opening the batting – I did it for a brief time – as you’ve got such a long time to think about each dismissal. But, for him, he has to just keep trusting his game and keep reading situations as well as he can.
“He’s a very bright cricketer. The way he played in the second innings (25 off 35 balls) was brilliant. He put pressure back on the bowlers and he got us off to a fine start.
“It gives us great confidence at the top of the order going into the rest of the games.
“I thought Bess did a brilliant job for us. In the first innings, in particular, they went nowhere. He built brilliant pressure and got a key wicket. I’m really pleased for him to come in and perform like he did.”
The series rolls onto Port Elizabeth for the third of four Tests a week on Thursday.
“For long periods of time, we were excellent – something we’ve struggled with abroad for a while. We built pressure and we followed it through,” added Root. “It’s a really good marker for the rest of the series and into tours in the future.”