England seamer Stuart Broad likened Ben Stokes’ two-wicket blast to the venomous spells of Andrew Flintoff as the all-rounder propelled his side to the brink of victory in the third Investec Test against South Africa.
Stokes dismissed Quinton de Kock and skipper Faf du Plessis in successive deliveries to reduce South Africa to 52-4 before the Proteas found some resolve to close day four at the Kia Oval on 117-4.
The hosts had earlier set their rivals a notional 492 for victory, which would smash the existing record of 418 for a successful fourth-innings run-chase after declaring on 313-8. Jonny Bairstow top-scored with 63.
Broad expressed confidence that England would wrap up the final six wickets and a 2-1 series lead, but reserved special praise for the combative Stokes and his hostility with ball in hand.
“Ben bowled as quickly as I’ve seen him bowl,” said Broad. “The bouncer that hit [South Africa opener Dean] Elgar early in his spell really fired him up. Fielding at mid-off it felt very quick.
“It felt like one of those intimidating spells that Flintoff used to bowl; heavy and at the batsman. It was a great period for us to get two key batsmen out in quick succession with genuine pace. He dragged the team with him for that spell.
“Stokesy’s a better cricketer when he’s in a battle and fired up. The team are learning how to get him in that mode more often than not; stoke him up so to speak so he has that really steely, focused look about him. He was pumped up for that spell.”
Stokes, who scored a century in England’s first innings, rued a missed chance of a hat-trick. Bangladesh’s Sohag Gazi remains the only player to notch a Test hundred and a hat-trick in the same match. Stokes said: “It’s amazing how often the hat-trick ball is a bit rubbish.”
South Africa will resume on Monday with Elgar unbeaten on 72 and Temba Bavuma on 16, and despite the bleak outlook assistant coach Adrian Birrell insists the tourists will scrap for a draw.
“We are in a bit of a hole, but we will fight,” said Birrell. “We have fought before and we have belief. It’s not doom and gloom in our changing room, there is hope.
“When you look at the players to come we are very reliant on the two that are in now to bat long, and Vernon [Philander] as well because he has blocked out before in these matches. There is hope. No huge expectation, but hope.”
South Africa would have been further in the mire had a diving Keaton Jennings not shelled a catch at third slip off the bowling of James Anderson, who turned 35 yesterday, with the obstinate Elgar on nine.
Broad made the breakthrough as he smashed through the defences of opener Heino Kuhn, while Toby Roland-Jones added to his five-wicket haul in South Africa’s first innings to snare the pivotal wicket of Hashim Amla, caught by captain Joe Root in the slips.
The stage was then set for Stokes as his yorker clattered into De Kock’s stumps before Du Plessis, as he had done on Friday, shouldered arms and was out lbw.
Bairstow, Tom Westley and Root all struck half-centuries, while the struggling Jennings amassed 48, as England piled on the runs. Root, meanwhile, opted for conservatism in his declaration and waited until thoughts of a South African victory were all but pure fantasy.