Ben Stokes hits fifth Test century to lift England to 353
Stokes reined in his attacking instincts to shepherd the hosts to a credible position.
Ben Stokes’ fifth Test century carried England to 353 all out on the second afternoon against South Africa at The Oval.
Stokes (112) soon lost Alastair Cook (88) on day two but shared stands of 75 for the sixth wicket and 37 for the ninth, with Jonny Bairstow and debutant Toby Roland-Jones, to ease England above par in awkward conditions.
He therefore provided vindication for Joe Root’s decision to bat first in the third Investec Test as England try to bounce back from last week’s defeat at Trent Bridge in a series level at 1-1, with two to play.
Stokes reined in his attacking instincts to significant effect at times to shepherd the hosts to a credible position, reaching his century with nine fours and three sixes off 144 balls in almost four-and-a-half hours.
South Africa, minus key seamer Vernon Philander after just five early overs because of a stomach upset which has failed to clear up and resulted in hospital checks, bowled well at times but also inconsistently.
Cook had underpinned England’s hard-earned 171 for four at stumps on Thursday evening but was able to add only six to his overnight score before falling to the 200th delivery he faced.
He was dismissed by Morne Morkel (three for 70), for the 10th time in his career, lbw from round the wicket after the opener went to DRS only to discover the umpire’s initial decision was marginally confirmed.
With Philander out of the reckoning, however, Stokes and Bairstow sensed an opportunity to attack Chris Morris and Keshav Maharaj.
The former over-pitched as both batsmen took advantage, and Bairstow swept two fours and straight-drove another in the slow left-armer’s first over.
There were five Bairstow boundaries in 10 balls at one point, and 46 runs came in six overs.
It was not until South Africa took the second new ball that there was instantly a resurgent threat, and it proved too much for Bairstow as Kagiso Rabada (three for 85) found extra bounce to have him edging to second slip.
Stokes had to be much more watchful too, and when new batsman Moeen Ali edged an involuntary four off Rabada just before lunch it was the first boundary in 10 overs.
Stokes’ wait between his seventh and eighth fours extended into almost mid-afternoon, and 58 balls. But after Moeen had gone in mildly controversial circumstances, caught-behind off Morkel according to the third umpire on DRS, England’s third and final debutant here made a telling contribution.
Roland-Jones and Stokes took England past 300, with Morris again targeted in one over especially which cost 17 runs – including the first six of the innings, hooked fine by the tailender.
His fun ended when he first faced Maharaj, lbw pushing forward in defence and missing an arm ball.
England’s last two wickets lasted long enough, though, for Stokes to complete a richly-deserved and valuable hundred – with successive sixes off Maharaj, the first carried over at deep midwicket when Faf du Plessis took the catch but brushed his shoulder on the boundary marker as he fell backwards.
Stokes himself was eventually last out, caught at long-off when he tried to take on the returning Morkel too.