Stuart Broad hailed the fastest spell of bowling he had seen from Ben Stokes as England moved to the brink of victory in the third Investec Test against South Africa.
Stokes removed Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis with successive deliveries as the tourists – set an improbable 492 for victory – lost three wickets for five runs on the fourth evening, before recovering to close on 117 for four.
And Broad, who had got the innings off to the perfect start by bowling Heino Kuhn for 11, was left comparing his team-mate’s pace and hostility to Andrew Flintoff in his pomp.
Ben Stokes claimed two South African wickets in the second innings of the third Test
Stokes received tremendous praise from Stuart Broad following his spell on Sunday
Broad said Stokes was bowling as fast as he has ever seen him bowl during the spell
‘He bowled as quick as I’ve seen him bowl,’ said Broad. ‘He had the wind behind him, his tail was up and the bouncer that hit Dean Elgar early in his spell fired him up.
‘The slips were really impressed, and it felt like one of those intimidating spells that Flintoff used to bowl – heavy, and always at the batsmen. It was a great spell for us to get those two key players.
‘When Stokesy gets that momentum it’s great to see. He’s a better cricketer when he’s in a battle, and he dragged the team with him.’
Had Keaton Jennings caught Elgar low down at third slip off Jimmy Anderson when he had only nine, England might have finished the day in an even stronger position.
Stokes dismissed Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis in consecutive deliveries at The Oval
Instead, Elgar finished the day on a gutsy 72, and Broad admitted: ‘Ideally we’d have liked one more wicket tonight. That last hour South Africa batted really well. But you back yourself to get six wickets on a day-five pitch.’
Stokes himself was left to regret a missed opportunity to take a hat-trick after yorking the dangerous de Kock, then trapping du Plessis leg before after South Africa’s captain shouldered arms fatally for the second time in the Test. But his next ball failed to trouble Temba Bavuma.
‘I tried to bowl the same ball I got Faf with, and it’s amazing how often the hat-trick ball can be a bit rubbish,’ he said. ‘But I think we’ve left ourselves enough time and hopefully we can go on to win.’
Broad claimed a wicket of his own as England left South Africa 117 for four at the close
The South African camp, meanwhile, were talking up their chances of an escape that would rival any they have achieved in their Test history.
‘We are in a bit of a hole, but we will fight and we’ve fought before,’ said their assistant coach Adrian Birrell. ‘We’ve got belief, and it’s quite a buoyant changing-room. It’s not all doom and gloom. There is hope.’
Asked about the dismissal of du Plessis, who has made only one run in this game, Birrell said: ‘The strategy for him was to block it out – and he can block. He just made two misjudgements.
‘Your first few balls are always tricky. He’s very disappointed that he’s not there. He wants to be out there and fight. He went straightaway to the gym and worked out his disappointment there.
‘But Temba toughs it out, and he’s not going to be overawed by the situation.’