At the London premiere of Phoenix from the Ashes on Monday night, Ben Stokes sat impassively through the bit where he slays the Aussies at Headingley — as if bashful about the attention.
Yesterday in Manchester, he unfussily carried on writing his own script, adding a lung-bursting 14-over spell to the high-class century he had made on Friday, and ending South Africa’s resistance to help square this topsy-turvy series.
If England can follow this victory with another in the decider at the Oval, they may soon have to make another film.
Ben Stokes produced another talismanic display with bat and ball as England won the second Test against South Africa by an innings and 85 runs
England’s players celebrate the final wicket – of Lungi Ngidi – to wrap up their Old Trafford win
Ollie Robinson is mobbed after taking Ngidi’s wicket to wrap up England’s emphatic win
‘The Beast’, England’s physio Phil Scott calls Stokes in the Amazon documentary. Here was yet more evidence.
On a pitch yielding little to the bowlers, South Africa had inched to tea on 141 for three, with Keegan Petersen and Rassie van der Dussen gutsing it out for a session and a half.
They were still 123 short of avoiding an innings defeat, but the capitulation that had seemed inevitable as the tourists slipped to 54 for three had not materialised.
Ben Stokes celebrates the wicket of Rassie van der Dussen just after tea as England broke his stubborn fourth-wicket stand with Keegan Petersen at Old Trafford
To add to England’s irritation, they had failed to review a faint edge from Van der Dussen off Stokes shortly before the break.
Over in Old Trafford’s giant grey stand, groups of men in fancy dress — traffic cones, Mexicans, packets of crisps — nursed pints, unsure why the day had not yet turned into a party.
Out in the middle, Stokes was doing his damnedest to get it started. Having delayed his introduction into the attack until the 54th over, he had already sent down six by tea, banging the old ball into the surface to a packed leg-side field.
Van der Dussen was tempted into playing at a wide Stokes ball and edged behind to Foakes
It was back-breaking stuff, of which Stokes alone in this England side is capable. But he was not done. With the third ball after the interval, he persuaded Van der Dussen to play too far from his body. This time the edge to Ben Foakes could be heard even by the traffic cones.
In his next over, Stokes coaxed a snorter from the surface, getting one to straighten and leap off the seam. Petersen, until now a picture of ungainly defiance, could only edge it through to Foakes.
Up on the balcony, Brendon McCullum held up four fingers, like some latter-day Mike Brearley, indicating how many slips he felt England should set for the new batsman, Simon Harmer. Stokes obliged, and was soon receiving his team-mates’ congratulations for slogging away until the availability of the second new ball.
James Anderson celebrates taking the wicket of South Africa’s Dean Elgar at Old Trafford
At Headingley three years ago, he had bowled 16 overs on the reel — a feat of endurance easily forgotten amid the madness of his match-winning hundred.
Now he had shrugged off the pain in his left knee to produce an heroic spell of 14-2-30-2, and served up South Africa’s lower order on a plate for Jimmy Anderson and Ollie Robinson.
They needed no encouragement. In a flurry of clattered stumps and thick edges, the last five wickets fell for seven runs — and South Africa to defeat by an innings and 85 runs. Anderson finished with three in the innings and six in the match, Robinson with four for 43 in his comeback game.
Elgar was clean bowled by Anderson as England made important gains in the morning session
Anderson’s ageless grace came as no surprise: at 40, he looks as hungry and engaged as ever.
For Robinson, slimmer and faster than when his fitness was publicly denounced by bowling coach Jon Lewis at Hobart in January, it was a triumphant return.
His 44 Test wickets have now come at less than 21 apiece. He is a serious bowler, who may have worked out how serious he needs to be.
Stuart Broad celebrates with Ben Foakes and Ben Stokes after removing Aiden Markram
Earlier, he had removed opener Sarel Erwee for 25 as England threatened to blow South Africa away before Manchester’s other sporting occasion — City’s 3pm kick-off against Crystal Palace — had begun.
Anderson had already bowled Dean Elgar with a beauty that sent back off stump with a satisfying ping.
Soon, Stuart Broad had Aiden Markram held by Zak Crawley at second slip — the over after trimming his bails with a beauty that turned out to be a no-ball.
Broad thought he’d gained a wicket earlier but replays showed he’d overstepped for a no-ball
Broad’s response to Crawley’s catch was to turn immediately to umpire Chris Gaffaney to check he had not transgressed again. He had not — and England scented blood.
Instead, Petersen and Van der Dussen — batting with a mould on his left index finger to protect a hairline fracture that will rule him out of the decider — got stuck in, happy to go at one an over against the left-arm spin of Jack Leach, and chipping away at England’s lead with a single here, a couple there.
The scene was set, as so often, for a Stokes-style intervention, a cricketing deus ex machina.
Ollie Robinson is mobbed after taking the wicket of Sarel Erwee as England made gains
His 103, and partnership of 173 with Foakes, had transformed England’s innings 24 hours earlier. Now he transformed South Africa’s.
He really is a man of many talents, not the least of which is knowing how to bend a game to his will. He is averaging 47 with the bat and 16 with the ball in this series, and can boast five wins out of six in partnership with McCullum.
Stokes knows that will mean little if South Africa — badly burned by leaving out left-arm quick Marco Jansen for this game to fit in Harmer as a second spinner — get their act together at the Oval. But it is the kind of challenge on which he thrives.
On Monday night, he had taken to the stage to thank executive producer Sam Mendes. Yesterday afternoon, his actions spoke even more eloquently.