England set the “benchmark” in their innings win over South Africa in the second Test, says captain Ben Stokes.
Beaten by an innings at Lord’s, England triumphed in three days at Emirates Old Trafford to level the series and set up a decider at the Kia Oval.
“It was an amazing team performance,” said Stokes, who was man of the match for his 103 and four wickets.
“The way in which way we bounced back from the disappointment at Lord’s was very pleasing.”
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Having taken a first-innings lead of 264, England bowled South Africa out for 179 on Saturday to earn their fifth win in six Tests.
It was almost an exact reversal of their defeat in the first Test, when they bowled out for 165 and 149 to be defeated inside three days.
“We completely forgot about that performance,” said Stokes. “The way we batted, bowled and fielded in this game was the benchmark of the standards we set.”
Although England earned four successive victories in swashbuckling style at the beginning of the summer, this was perhaps their most complete performance since Stokes took over as captain.
They dismissed South Africa cheaply twice in contrasting circumstances – on a damp, cloudy first day after the Proteas won the toss, then again in sapping conditions on a dry Saturday with the ball reverse-swinging.
In between, England eschewed their ultra-aggressive batting of earlier in the season to grind out 415-9 declared, with Stokes and Ben Foakes making hundreds.
“What we did incredibly well with the bat was assess it was a wicket that we couldn’t go out in the way that we spoke about, which I think is real progress for this side,” said Stokes.
“We managed to step up to the plate at every opportunity. I’m very, very pleased with the performance.”
England had to overcome some stubborn South Africa resistance before surging to victory on the third evening.
James Anderson and Ollie Robinson shared the final five wickets for seven runs in 30 balls. Anderson moved to 951 international wickets, the most by a pace bowler and another record for the 40-year-old.
“Every time I play cricket it could be the last so I just enjoy the experience,” Anderson told BBC Test Match Special.
“I could retire tomorrow and be delighted – but I’m not!”
South Africa’s decision to include two spinners was justified by the way the pitch behaved, but they ultimately paid the price for being bowled out for 151 in the first innings after opting to bat in trying conditions.
“We didn’t bat particularly well,” said captain Dean Elgar. “The ball moved around, but this is Test cricket and we have to deal with it.
“The pitch did deteriorate as we thought it would, but our first-innings batting let us down.”
The third Test begins on 8 September, with Stokes saying the prospect of a series decider is “very exciting”.
“Both teams have got everything to play for,” he said. “We will take a lot of confidence from this game, but we know South Africa will throw everything at us.”
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