Ben Stokes soaked up a phenomenal feeling after his one-handed wonder catch got England’s World Cup campaign under way with a crushing victory and a sprinkling of stardust.
The all-rounder was back to his dominant best in the 104-run win against South Africa, top-scoring with 89 as England posted 311 for eight. A run-out and two wickets in two balls then helped to skittle the visitors for 207 in 39.5 overs.
But it was his soaring effort to remove Andile Phehlukwayo in the deep that left a sold-out Oval crowd aghast. It was the jewel in the crown of England’s faultless fielding performance, even if Stokes himself admitted it was only possible due to an error on his part.
“To be honest I was in the wrong position,” the all-rounder said of the catch. “If I was in the right position it would have been regulation. That feeling for about five seconds when I was facing the crowd and everyone was cheering, it was phenomenal.”
Eoin Morgan, who struck 57 in a stand of 106 with Stokes, said: “He’s had a full day out. We see him do stuff like that in training and you just shake your head. Today his all-round game was on and that’s great for us at the start of a tournament. He’s at the top of his game.
“It is a relief to be off and running, great to get a win and even better to produce a performance like that.”
It was some effort by Stokes to nudge Jofra Archer off top billing, the fast bowler’s new-ball spell having proved too hot to handle for the South African batsmen at the start of their chase.
Bowling in excess of 90mph, Archer claimed the scalps of Faf du Plessis and Aiden Markram, with Hashim Amla also retired hurt when struck on the head by a searing bouncer.
While Amla thankfully returned later after being cleared of concussion by the ICC medical officer, so too did Archer, picking up the wicket of Rassie van der Dussen for figures of three for 27 from seven overs.
Archer may be just four ODIs into his England career but the 24-year-old is already proving a crowd favourite.
“Everyone exploded when my name was announced and it’s a great feeling,” he said. “It give me that little bit extra. My bouncer is a wicket?taking ball and a dot ball too, so I’d be stupid not to use it.”
Du Plessis, who tried to take on a 93mph short ball, said: “It will take time for international teams to get used to his action because he is a bit nippier than you think when he hits the crease. He bowls at 80% speed then sends down a very quick short ball.
“It is why he is an X-factor bowler. He broke through our top three and it was always going to be a hard task from there.”
On Stokes, a former teammate in the Indian Premier League, the South Africa captain said: “He is a three?in?one cricketer. That is why England are such a good team, they have so many all-rounders like him, Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes.
“The catch was as good as it gets. I appreciate skill goes into that. I have played with him and he practises his fielding hard, so it is no fluke.”
While Du Plessis admitted his side had been outplayed “in all three facets” and must “remove all doubts” before returning to the Oval for the match with Bangladesh on Sunday, Morgan could find few faults in his own side. A huge source of this delight came in seeing them post yet another 300?plus total on a tricky Oval surface, not least given their next match against Pakistan on Monday comes at Trent Bridge, the most bountiful pitch in the country.
Morgan said: “I think one of the areas of our game that has improved in the last two years is the way we’ve assessed conditions and played a bit more smart cricket, building partnerships, putting a total on the board and believing that’s enough.”