Ben Stokes, hero of the hour, thought for a moment and then analysed his remarkable innings. “See ball, hit ball,” he said. There was a little more than that to his scintillating 258 from 198 balls on the second day of the second Test against South Africa but such is the uncluttered, uncomplicated manner in which Stokes approaches the whole business of striking a cricket ball it is probably not much more.
It was a quite remarkable exhibition of continuous big hitting for three hours in which he and Jonny Bairstow, who scored his maiden Test hundred, shared a world record sixth-wicket partnership of 399. South Africa all but gave up looking for answers to what to do.
Today, Alastair Cook, the England captain, advised him to get himself in again at the start of play. Stokes responded by hitting his second and fourth balls for four and taking only 12 balls to add the 26 he needed to reach his third Test hundred.
“I felt there were enough balls to throw my hands through and kept going,” he said. “I didn’t want to hang around and try and nudge my way to a hundred because I would be a little bit annoyed with myself if I took the more selfish route. The fact that we had Mo [Moeen Ali] and Broady [Stuart Broad] still to come, who can hold a bat, they could probably get us up to 450-500 anyway.”
Perhaps Stokes’ achievement was the more extraordinary for having to come in to face a hat-trick ball on Saturday evening. He managed to survive that and was in full flow soon after, confirming that coming out to partner Joe Root helped tremendously.
“Me and Rooty bat really well together,” he said. “When you know you’re staring out with a guy you generally do quite well with, that’s a massive settler. That does help when you’re walking out there, especially on a hat-trick ball with the game having changed.
“It was swinging about who was on top,” he added. “When I am playing the ball straight down the ground I know I am in decent form. When I’m not in good form I probably try and work it across the leg side.
“It’s nice to hold records but the one thing I don’t concentrate too much on is averages and things like that. It’s a pretty clichéd thing to say but I would rather be involved with a winning team than have really good averages with bat and ball. I will probably never play like that again in my life playing cricket but I have done it once and at least I can say that.”
For Bairstow, it was the sweetest moment after years of trying to establish his credentials as an international cricketer. He looked to the heavens when he reached his hundred and indicated that in that moment he was thinking of his late cricketer father, David, and his grandfather.
“Obviously, Dad and Grandpa, who passed away last year, and family stuff,” he said. “I was delighted to get over the line and it was for those guys. It has been a little while coming. I am delighted after everything that has gone on in the last year or so.
“It is fantastic for me and my family. They have supported me all through my career. To have them here in Cape Town is lovely and it is my Mum’s birthday on the last day of the Test, so hopefully we can cap off a great game.”