An innings victory inside three days for South Africa at Lords; an innings victory inside three days for England at Old Trafford; a series beautifully poised as it heads for a decider at the Kia Oval.
It was Ben Stokes – who else? – who blew this game open in the course of an epic 14-over spell either side of tea that saw him pick up the wickets of the resistant Rassie van der Dussen and Keegan Petersen to leave South Africa five down.
Stokes bowled until the new ball was available, at which point Jimmy Anderson and Ollie Robinson did the business. Anderson still does not have a Test five-fer at Lord’s, but he will not mind a jot with match figures of six for 62. Robinson took four for 43 in the second innings, capping a superb return to the side.
This was a fantastic return to form for England in levelling the series with a win by an innings and 85 runs. Their bowlers set it up on the opening day by dismissing South Africa for 151 in helpful conditions, then centuries for Stokes and Ben Foakes – following a crisis-averting partnership from Zak Crawley and Jonny Bairstow – gave them a lead of 237. That proved more than enough.
South Africa, alas, got so much wrong after their perfect three days at Lord’s. It started at the toss, where batting first was an understandable decision that also played into England’s hands. That decision was forced by the selection of a second spinner, Simon Harmer, at the expense of Marco Jansen, one of the outstanding four-pronged seam attack from Lord’s. It also lengthened their tail. They will reflect, too, that they batted poorly while there were some curious tactical calls from Dean Elgar.
Having survived nine wicketless overs to stumps on Friday, Elgar was the first man to go on the third morning, and in some style. He was set up delicately by Anderson, who crashed one into his stump with a satisfying conk.
A few overs later, Sarel Erwee was caught behind off Robinson, before Stuart Broad entered the attack and immediately troubled Aiden Markram. On nought, he was bowled, but the third umpire Broad had overstepped. Never mind, in his next over, Markram drove Broad wildly to second slip and South Africa were 54 for three.
At that stage, a three-day finish seemed a certainty. But Petersen and Van der Dussen, nursing a nasty finger injury, dug in until lunch, then tea. The partnership was worth 87 in 43 overs, with England keeping attacking fields and the game remaining right in their control. Jack Leach did not take a wicket but his 23 overs cost just 26 runs.
Stokes held himself back until the 54th over, then settled into his extraordinary spell. Before tea, he bowled six overs for eight runs. After it, he continued, having Van der Dussen caught driving wildly to Foakes in the first over, then a beauty saw Petersen caught behind, too.
Stokes could have taken himself off but, with South Africa’s tail now exposed, he battled on until the new ball. Anderson took it, and immediately nipped one through Harmer.
From there, South Africa collapsed in a heap, losing five wickets for seven runs. Anderson had Kagiso Rabada caught at slip, between Robinson’s dismissals of Keshav Maharaj, Anrich Nortje and, finally, Lungi Ngidi comprehensively bowled. It had been a sensational evening session, set up by Stokes.