Ben Stokes produced a brilliant spell of reverse-swing bowling to take England to a dramatic series-levelling win over South Africa in the second Test at Cape Town today.
Having been frustrated for much of the afternoon session by Quinton de Kock and Rassie van der Dussen, England were still five wickets from victory going into the evening session but Stokes (3-35) dragged them over the line with three wickets in the final hour.
The tourists began day five at Newlands needing eight wickets to win and they made the perfect start when James Anderson removed nightwatchman Keshav Maharaj early.
Dom Bess and Sam Curran struck either side of lunch to remove Faf du Plessis (19) and Pieter Malan (84) respectively, and despite the efforts of De Kock (50) and Van der Dussen (17), in particular, South Africa were bowled out for 248 late in the day as England sealed a 189-run win, their first at Newlands since 1957.
While the visitors were favourites, the day began with all results still possible. However, South Africa’s approach in the first hour suggested they had little interest in trying to get the 312 more runs needed to for victory and were happy to dig in for a draw to maintain the series lead.
They lost Maharaj in the third over of the day, Anderson nipping one back just a fraction to the nightwatchman and hit him plumb in front. So much so that the batsman was already moving in the direction of the dressing room as the umpire raised his finger.
Malan was looking as solid as he had the previous evening though and Du Plessis was steadfast in his defence as well, which made his dismissal, and the manner of it, all the more surprising.
Bess was finding a little turn and bounce outside the right-hander’s off stump but, with no-one back on the legside, Du Plessis (19) tried a hard sweep, only to pick out Denly. England could hardly believe their luck while Du Plessis stood in disbelief for a number of seconds before dragging himself from the wicket.
There was another major breakthrough for England just after lunch as Sam Curran, entrusted with the second new ball, ousted Malan. The left-armer angled the ball across the debutant and found the edge with Stokes on hand to take another good catch, low down at second slip and deny Malan a debut century.
There was no clatter of wickets for England though as De Kock joined Van der Dussen in the middle and got their side safely through to tea. Denly caused De Kock a few problems as he turned the ball back into the left-hander out of the rough while Bess and Joe Root also got a bit out of the pitch.
However, Root’s options were limited with Anderson on and off the field with a physical issue, rather than the sickness bug that plagued England in the first Test, and unable to bowl between lunch and tea.
He struggled through two overs at the start of the evening session but it was increasingly clear that he was not fully fit and Root quickly took him out of the attack.
England were offered a lifeline a few minutes later though as Denly, reintroduced to the attack, served up a rank long-hop to De Kock (50). The left-hander went back and hammered it straight to Zak Crawley at midwicket, ending his long stay at the crease just after he had reached his slowest international half-century, 103 balls.
Perhaps still a little over-excited after the wicket, England wasted their last review two balls later thinking the ball had flicked Vernon Philander’s glove after looping up off his pad to silly point. Replays confirmed it was nowhere near.
It took a moment of inspiration to prise out Van der Dussen, who battled to 17 from 139 balls before England moved Anderson in to leg slip. Stuart Broad bowled on the batsman’s pads and he duly flicked it straight to the newly positioned fielder to take England to within three wickets of victory.
As the game moved into the final hour, Philander and Dwaine Pretorius found themselves surrounded by England fielders with turn for the spinners and Stokes getting the ball to reverse at the other end.
It was the latter method that did the trick, Pretorius (0) having nibbled at a few from the England all-rounder, finally edged one and Root clung on low down at first slip.
Next ball, Stokes found the edge again. The slips were in close and the ball flew quickly to Crawley, who stuck up his right hand, pushed it up and then took the catch with his left as he fell backwards.
Kagiso Rabada kept out the hat-trick ball but there was still more than 12 overs to survive and four overs later, Stokes produced a snorter that flew off Philander’s glove to gully where Ollie Pope held on to the winning catch.