England captain Ben Stokes praised his side for producing a “benchmark” performance that swept South Africa aside inside three days at Emirates Old Trafford.
Stokes started his reign with four adrenaline-fuelled run chases against New Zealand and India before crashing back to earth with a thumping defeat by the Proteas at Lord’s last week.
England got themselves back to winning ways in Manchester, knocking over the tourists for 151 and 179 to triumph by an innings and 85 runs with two days to spare.
Despite the bruising nature of the result it was a performance that required more determination and more nuance than the tub-thumping thrillers that lit up the early part of the summer.
Ben Foakes knuckled down for a determined century, with Stokes also digging deep in the early stages of his first ton as skipper, while Zak Crawley shelved his natural attacking instincts to survive an important passage on the first evening.
Their collective resolve was tested again on Saturday as Keegan Petersen and Rassie van der Dussen defied them in a frustrating 43-over stand before an inspired double strike from Stokes ended their resistance.
“I think what we did incredibly well was assess that we didn’t feel this was a wicket where we could go out and play in the way that we’ve spoken about,” he said.
“Cricket is about how you bat, bowl and field and I think that the way we batted, bowled and fielded this whole game is the benchmark of the standards we’ve set. I think that is real progress for the side.
“It didn’t feel like a wicket where you could stand there and hit through the line because of the variable bounce that it was offering. Some balls were going through and bouncing, some were skidding at a good pace.
“It was an amazing team performance all round and the way we bounced back from the disappointment at Lord’s last week was obviously very pleasing.”
Despite Stokes’ eagerness to share the plaudits – he suggested Foakes should have won his player of the match award and made a point of drawing attention to Crawley’s low-key 38 – he could not hide from his own role at the heart of the victory.
Having already played his part with the bat he stepped up to wreck South Africa’s resistance as he dismissed the determined fourth-wicket pair of Petersen and Van der Dussen in the middle of an exhausting 14-over spell deep into the second innings.
Where most cricketers would have happily settled in and waited for the new ball, which later brought a clatter of five wickets in 30 deliveries from James Anderson and Ollie Robinson, he demanded more from himself and got it.
“When you are bowling with the older ball, when nothing is really happening, you have to create your own energies and own theatre around that,” he explained.
“It’s something I’ve done over my career with the older ball, just to try and run in and hit the wicket as hard as I can to try and make something out of nothing.”
He signed off with a nod to the hometown hero, Anderson, whose name reverberated around his home ground throughout the Test. At the age of 40 he ticked off another page in the record books, taking Glenn McGrath’s title as the most prolific fast bowler in international cricketing history.
Some decent match figures 😳
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) August 27, 2022
He finished with match figures of six for 62 and now has 951 scalps across all formats.
“He’s a testament to himself and a great ambassador for the game,” said Stokes.
“I said before this game started that I honestly can’t see when he’s going to stop. He doesn’t act like a 40-year-old. You can see him just enjoying every moment he’s out there.”