Durham teenager Ben Stokes signalled his accelerating progress with an astonishing one-man show against Hampshire at the Rose Bowl yesterday, taking three wickets in one over during the morning session, scoring a century in the afternoon and then celebrating the feat by hitting five consecutive sixes off Liam Dawson.
One more and he would have joined the company of Sir Garfield Sobers and India's Ravi Shastri as the only players in history to hit six sixes in an over in a first-class match.
It was an extraordinary performance from the 19-year-old, who almost singlehandedly put his side in a winning position, despite the absence of two key players through injury.
Durham's declaration at 310-3, with England prospect Stokes unbeaten on 135, left Hampshire with the daunting task of scoring 490 to win or – more realistically – avoiding losing 10 wickets with still a full day ahead of them.
Stokes, who toured West Indies with England Lions during the winter after making his senior breakthrough with Durham last year, made his side's injury problems look inconsequential.
The Durham attack is one man short, with Steve Harmison nursing a badly bruised forearm, but any hopes the home side might have entertained of getting near the visitors' first-innings 473 were wrecked when the 19-year-old all-rounder took the last three Hampshire wickets in the space of five deliveries off the same over.
Stokes pinned Dominic Cork leg before and had Danny Briggs caught behind to give him five in an innings for the first time in county cricket, then bowling Simon Jones for figures of six for 68, meaning Hampshire were all out for 294.
But that was only the beginning of the day's deeds for Stokes. Durham are one batsman light, too, after opener Mark Stoneman retired with a broken hand but another virtuoso display from the youngster more than compensated.
He did not quite make a century before tea but he was only just short, completing his third hundred from 19 first-class matches shortly after, from 135 balls with 13 fours and a six, having shared a third-wicket partnership of 88 with Gordon Muchall.
But even that was not the end of the entertainment. Nothing if not confident in his own ability to strike a ball hard, Stokes decided to go on the attack against Dawson, dispatching the first five balls of the left-arm spinner's sixth over for six.
A single off the last ball spoiled his attempt to join Sobers and Shastri as the only players to hit six sixes in an over in first-class cricket. Sobers achieved the feat for Nottinghamshire against Glamorgan in 1968, while Shastri did it for Bombay against Baroda in 1985.
Meanwhile, another emerging cricketer, one with a familiar name – albeit one of a younger vintage – stamped himself as a player to watch with a spectacular debut. Reece Topley, son of former Essex stalwart Don Topley, took a wicket with his third ball in first-class cricket when he bowled Kent's Joe Denly at Chelmsford on Friday.
Yesterday, as Kent were dismissed for 238 to leave Essex chasing 285 to launch their season with a win, Topley not only claimed England batsman Denly's scalp for a second time in the match, he went on to take five wickets in the innings, accounting for three other England players in opener Rob Key, wicket-keeper Geraint Jones and James Tredwell, giving him seven in the match.
At 17 years and 57 days, the 6ft 7in Topley is among the youngest to achieve the traditional bowler's mark of excellence in a first-class match, although not the youngest. James Harris of Glamorgan was 17 years and three days old when he took 7-66 against Gloucestershire in May 2007.
England opener Alastair Cook, out cheaply in Essex's first innings, looked set to atone as he and Billy Godleman put on 60 in 14 overs before the introduction of Tredwell curtailed his ambition, the off-spinner trapping Cook leg-before for 31.
Elsewhere, half-centuries from Tom Smith, Steven Croft and Gareth Cross supplemented Karl Brown's Saturday century as Lancashire surpassed their highest total of last season by 53 in reaching 472 for a lead of 229 over Sussex at Liverpool.