Ben Stokes bludgeoned one of the great attacking Test innings, the second fastest double century in Test history, on the second morning of the second Test in Cape Town. The statistics of the morning almost defied belief: England struck 196 in 25 overs without any semblance of losing a wicket and the giant in his own fairy tale with a bat the size of an oak tree had quite a story to tell.
Stokes became the first England No. 6 to make a double hundred in Tests, the 10th of all time, with his milestone taking only 163 deliveries with 26 fours and seven sixes. It was a stupendous achievement by a batsman who played with untrammelled power as blue skies shone over Table Mountain and 12,000 cheering England supporters revelled in every moment. It was a day to treasure.
Stokes’ dream sequence produced some extraordinary statistics. Freckled of complexion, brawny of stroke, he hit 130 runs in the morning session, advancing from 74 to 204. Alongside him Jonny Bairstow was no slouch either, moving from 39 to 95, but he knew he was merely the supporting act. At lunch, their stand was worth 290.
Barely anything threatened Stokes’ immense sense of feelgood. On 138, a six against the offspinner Dane Piedt barely cleared the outstretched hands of Stiaan van Zyl, who significantly was a yard off the boundary at long off. On 197, Chris Morris almost yorked him, perhaps to the bowler’s surprise. And he pottered around for, oh, all of a few seconds before he pulled Morne Morkel through midwicket to reach 200.
When the ball comes onto the bat, and cricket is a simple game, Stokes’ destructive power knows few bounds. This was only his third Test hundred, to follow equally exciting affairs against Australia – including Mitchell Johnson at his fiercest – in Perth and New Zealand at Lord’s, but it was an innings that spoke volumes about the importance of the combative allrounder, able to balance a side and change a game in an instance with bat or ball.