NASSER HUSSAIN: Captain Ben Stokes stepped up when England needed it

NASSER HUSSAIN: Captain Ben Stokes stepped up just when England needed it most with both bat and ball as hosts better South Africa in second Test

  • Ben Stokes finally showcased his best batting and bowling in Manchester
  • The Captain stepped up to put England square in South Africa Test series 
  • Stokes has always been one of England’s most technically gifted batters

It was always only a matter of time before we saw Ben Stokes at his absolute best with bat and ball this summer and that time arrived in the second Test.

Yes, Stokes wanted to set the tone as captain after taking over and show he would not ask his players to do anything he was not prepared to do himself. But eventually Ben the cricketer had to kick in as well as Ben the captain.

And Ben Stokes the cricketer is a very proud bloke who wants to be performing at his absolute best. He would never have been happy with 20s and 30s and the odd wicket so he stepped up when his team needed him most against South Africa. Stokes is always the man for a crisis and while that was not exactly the case, when he went into bat England were still behind South Africa and had work to do.

Ben Stokes was integral in getting England to square the Test series against South Africa 

The ball was reversing and England needed a match-defining innings from their captain and Stokes provided it by getting his tempo absolutely right. Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje were trying to tempt him outside off-stump and Stokes left it and left it and let the bowlers come to him before, when South Africa turned to spin, immediately jumping on Simon Harmer.

And as South Africa approached the second new ball Stokes again went hard and took the attacking option.

Stokes has always been one of the most technically gifted batters in the England side and he was too good to continue running down the pitch and chipping it to mid-on. What we saw from Stokes and England at Old Trafford was not Bazball. I hate that term.

England want a positive mind-set and approach to everything they do. That will see them attack for much of the time but there are also times to sit in and soak up pressure.

Stokes took two key second innings South African wickets in a 14-over-spell on day three

This was the perfect template for how Stokes wants his team to play, far more than anything we saw in the opening four victories against New Zealand and India. It is not reckless batting but it is seizing every opportunity that comes England’s way.

When I saw the ball reversing at such an early stage I did think ‘I hope Ben’s knee is OK’ because he is England’s best bowler when the ball reverse swings.

He leans wide in the crease at the point of delivery so the ball looks like it is moving into the right hander and they feel they have to play at it. But at the last moment it tails away and they play at essentially a delivery wide of the stumps. That is what did for Rassie van der Dussen on Saturday before that absolute jaffa that got Keegan Petersen.

One thing I would say: I’m not sure it was wise for Ben to bowl 14 overs on the bounce because he has to balance the short-term objective of winning an important Test with long term interests. This Test has shown again that as a captain, batter, bowler and fielder Stokes is irreplaceable and you have to be concerned about that knee.

I don’t know what the problem is with Stokes’s left knee but the medical people will have to take over at some stage. He needs looking after because in a match situation he gets blinkered and only thinks of doing whatever it takes to win the game.

You cannot fault him for that but, remember, Stokes over-did it with the short stuff during the winter in Australia and ended up virtually done by the end of the Ashes.

I would rather have him as a genuine all-rounder for the next five years rather than just the next 18 months because he is such an important asset.

Stokes again got everything right as captain. It was the correct thing to do to give Ollie Robinson the new ball over Stuart Broad and he bowled extremely well throughout. Jimmy Anderson was as brilliant as ever and Zak Crawley got his head down, played for his off-stump and played late. This is how he has to do it moving forward.

There was doom and gloom after Lord’s but England have won five out of six Tests under Stokes and Brendon McCullum and it just shows how much they were under-performing, with extenuating circumstances, before this summer.

England, remember, have four of their all-time greats in this side in Anderson, Joe Root, Stokes and Broad and this is the sort of level they must maintain. They have a great leader, a great coach and a very different mind-set. It just shows what can be done.

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