Inspirational Ben Stokes proves he deserves to rank alongside England's greatest Test captains

Inspirational Ben Stokes proves he deserves to rank alongside England’s greatest Test captains

Never before have England scored at such a rapid pace as under Stokes, certainly not in an entire English summer, with between four and five points per over. Yes, they took a while to get used to this new approach, and there were excesses, like Stokes’ first-inning shot; but all we can ask is that they learn and temper themselves, without compromise.

As aggressive as England’s stick is, it has nonetheless been the bowling alley of James Anderson and Stuart Broad. What could be more inspiring than a captain capable of teaching new tricks to two canines who are almost 80 years old between them?

It was infuriating to watch England’s famous opening bowlers hide the ball outside the stump for years, in Adelaide’s day/night tests to begin with, optimizing their figures without being themselves and maximizing their talents. This summer, Anderson and Broad have returned to what they were in their youth, mostly determined to take wickets with whatever skills they have mastered.

Anderson and Broad deserved that pitch for the changes they made this summer. Normally the Oval is tough and unresponsive, but this test was the second most recent of the season held here. In the autumnal humidity, they swung the ball and the seam back and forth, as if blessed by nature for buying Stokes the captaincy.

The English Civil War may have been won by the Roundheads, but this series against South Africa is about to be won by the Cavaliers. Dean Elgar and his men were too focused on stoic defense in their second run, misreading the conditions and erring on the side of caution. In the hands of Anderson and Broad, and by Ollie Robinson and Stokes himself, the ball wobbled more as it aged and continued to break away from the seam faster than the tourists could score.

Stokes must have suffered a real knee injury as he neared the end of his afternoon. Still, he produced an inswinger that knocked out the stump of Marco Jansen’s leg, raising a crooked finger, and he continued past the tea interval to take a third of his wickets. Few Pilgrims can have suffered so much nearing the end of their journey as Stokes did while leading England’s revival.

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