When Cricket South Africa tweeted England’s team news this morning, they reckoned that Stokes had been dropped for Anderson. Hard luck lads. You should be so lucky.
Stokes might sound like Woakes but they’re very different cricketers. The Warwickshire man is typically orthodox (one might say stereotypically English) in style and approach. Stokes, on the other hand, just whacks it. He’s all swagger and aggression. And I love it.
Before Stokes seized the nettle this afternoon, England weren’t in particularly great shape. We weren’t necessarily in trouble, but there was a danger we’d miss out on the big score we need on this excellent batting wicket. With Joe Root gone after a breezy half-century, South Africa had done well to claim five wickets with just over 200 on the board. But Stokes wrestled the initiative away from the hosts with a typically blunt, pugnacious, if a tad seat-of-your-pants, 74*.
After a morning and afternoon session of mild introspection, as England attempted to build an impregnable position via accumulation, Stokes completely transformed the day’s play. Ably supported by Jonny Bairstow, who was impressive yet again, England scored a mammoth 150 runs after tea. That’s Australia versus the West Indies territory. It was hugely entertaining to watch.
South Africa, and Hashim Amla in particular, will wonder what hit them. Their inexperienced attack, which looked pretty good to me despite a social media bandwagon criticising the selection of the tall and brisk Chris Morris, initially did well. Such observations are relative, as it’s a fantastic batting pitch, but I was actually quite impressed with both Morris and the hugely promising Rabada.
Cook looked somewhat uncertain, and ultimately succumbed in familiar fashion (caught behind driving outside off with a stiff front leg), and it wasn’t a cake walk for Alex Hales either. Nick Compton was again composed and fluent before he was out pulling for the second time in three innings, but when James Taylor was out for a golden duck the Cricket Boks were right in this match. England’s top order had made a steady start but the daddy partnership was missing.
However, Stokes and Bairstow’s run-fest has swung momentum back towards England. I sometimes think that Stokes plays a little like Adam Gilchrist – that buccaneering left-hander that stands and delivers – and his innings today was exactly what the aforementioned Aussie used to do to England. Just as we got a foothold in the match, Gilchrist would kick the ladder from under us. It’s great to see our opponents on the receiving end of such an assault for a change.
The other big talking points today were Alex Hales’ innings and the third umpire’s decision not to give Taylor a reprieve when Rabada’s front-foot overstepped the line. I’ll quick give my view of both.
So many people have written off Alex Hales that they’re reluctant to praise the guy when he plays well. It’s a bit of a shame really. Although I’ve got my doubts about his suitability as a test opener, he did play pretty well and it took a good ball to get him out. I’m not sure this innings will be a breakthrough, as it’s a very flat pitch and he still looks suspect outside that off-stump, but I did see an improvement.
We’ll have to see how the rest of the series goes – and let’s not forget that both Robson and Lyth made tons in their second test – but Hales does have more natural talent than either of his predecessors. Will he turn himself into a test opener in time? Maybe. Maybe not. But he deserves a run of games to show what he can do. It helps that the team around him is playing well.
As for the Taylor dismissal I’m a little confused. In my opinion it was clearly a no-ball, but the third umpire seemed to see things completely differently. Some said there was ‘no clear evidence to overrule the on-field decision’ but this misses the point. It wasn’t a DRS challenge. The third umpire should see the pictures and make his own decision irrespective of what the on-field umpires may or may not have missed.
There’s no ‘umpire’s call’ with front-foot no-ball referrals. In such circumstances it seems to me that the benefit of doubt should go to the batsman. What exactly has happened to this long-established cricketing convention?
Anyway, thankfully the decision hasn’t cost England too dearly. With 317-5 on the board, and some useful players still to come, England are in good shape. A total of 450 will give us a good opportunity to win the game. The pitch is good for batting now but it’s already beginning to crack. I wouldn’t fancy batting last. Thoughts?