Ben Stokes: Father was inspiration behind match-winning performance
Ben Stokes has revealed his recovering father Ged was on his mind as he carried England to a dramatic fifth-day victory over South Africa in Cape Town.
Stokes senior was admitted to a Johannesburg hospital in a critical condition ahead of the first Test in Centurion, having travelled to see his son take part in the Boxing Day Test, and is slowly recovering.
The England all-rounder has carried the burden throughout the first two matches of the series but, rather than weighing him down, it spurred him on to yet another memorable performance in the 189-run win at Newlands.
With South Africa showing seemingly endless reserves of grit and determination it was Stokes who stepped up to deliver the tourists the result they craved after five long days at the coal face, leaving just 50 deliveries to spare.
In the space of 14 balls he took the last three Proteas wickets, with England toiling for 126 overs to pick up the previous seven, completing an all-round performance that had already seen him take six catches at second slip and hit a blistering 72 to set up the game in the second innings.
“I’ve had a few knee issues and stuff like that but I’ve got the three lions on my chest, which is such a proud thing. I always had my Dad in the back of my mind and that took any injury worries or niggles out of my head,” he said.
“I was thinking that he came out here to watch me and unfortunately he’s not been able to so there was a lot more to my efforts in this game, doing it for him.
“I haven’t managed to speak to him yet but hopefully I’ve made him proud.”
That is a given, with his latest remarkable effort representing a worthy follow-up to his incredible performances in the World Cup final and the classic Ashes chase at Headingley, but it is not just family who take pride in Stokes’ on-field achievements.
England captain Joe Root has becoming used to seeing his star man haul the team over the line when they most need it and reached for the right words to describe his impact on the national side’s fortunes.
“He’s a golden nugget isn’t he? He’s just a fantastic specimen, really,” said Root.
“You put him in a lot of different situations and he stands up to it. He’s a born match-winner that will always put the team first and give everything to the group of players he’s playing alongside.
“Not many sides have a Ben Stokes in them. We’re very lucky to be witnessing what we are at the moment.”
Both men made a point of celebrating the joy of five-day Test cricket, with England’s 11th-hour victory coming shortly after the notion of standardising four-day contests re-entered the conversation.
The England and Wales Cricket Board has offered a cautious welcome to the idea but in Stokes the longer format has a powerful – and passionate – ally.
“It was an amazing game to be a part of. The fact it went all the way to the wire proves why Test cricket should be five days and should always stay five days,” he said.
“Test cricket is not made for four days, it’s made for five. It’s called Test cricket for a reason. They should change it to ‘easy cricket’ if they make it four days.”
In the afterglow of becoming the first England captain to take down the Proteas at Newlands since Peter May in 1957, Root offered a similar assessment.
“It was a great game of cricket and a great advert for five-day Test cricket,” he said.
“I like five-day Test cricket, I’ll leave it at that or I’ll get in trouble.”
England’s joy was tempered by some bad news, with seam bowler James Anderson picking up a side injury which curtailed his involvement in the closing stages. He will be sent for scans, with Root admitting England did not yet know the extent of the problem.
England will also await the match referee’s verdict on an exchange between wicketkeeper Jos Buttler and Vernon Philander, with Buttler likely to find himself in the dock after the stump microphone picked up a colourful piece of sledging.