Stokes marked the release date of the new documentary about his turbulent career with a timely piece of ambush marketing, hitting 103 as he and Foakes powered their side into a commanding first-innings lead of 264 at Emirates Old Trafford.
The wicketkeeper’s only other hundred came on debut in Sri Lanka in 2018 and he carved out a vital 113 not out to share the heavy lifting with his skipper, allowing a declaration at 415 for nine.
With nine overs to face before the close, Dean Elgar and Sarel Erwee reached 23 without loss, the start of a long battle to stay in contention.
Stokes closing in on McCullum
A captain’s innings balancing purpose and poise from Stokes lifted England firmly into the ascendancy. Three sixes during the innings took him on to 103 for his Test career – moving him above Adam Gilchrist and up to second in the all-time list. Only current England Test head coach Brendon McCullum, with 107, is now ahead of Stokes, who may fancy his chances of overhauling the Kiwi before this summer is out.
Foakes ends lean trot
Foakes came into this Test with an average of 20.9 in 13 innings since his recall earlier this year. Maybe because he has been a reliable presence behind the stumps or there is greater scrutiny on those up the order, but Foakes’ drought with the bat has flown under the radar. Here he was a useful foil in a 173-run union with Stokes before marshalling the tail en route to his first Test hundred at home. It was his second overall as he matched his predecessor in the wicketkeeping job: Jos Buttler, who was thought to have a greater ceiling as a batter. It was part of the reason why Foakes was kept on ice. But while they are now level on Test centuries, Buttler played 57 matches and Foakes is into his 16th.
South Africa in a spin
Anrich Nortje made life devilishly difficult for Zak Crawley and Jonny Bairstow in a superb five-over burst on the second morning, dismissing both England batters with the hosts still in arrears. But instead of calling for Nortje and Kagiso Rabada at the start of the afternoon, South Africa captain Elgar went with spin at both ends. Keshav Maharaj and Simon Harmer conceded only 27 in 12 overs, but Stokes and Foakes were rarely troubled and had firmly found their feet when Nortje was belatedly introduced. The Proteas’ inclusion of two spinners has been called into question and combined figures of 45.4-8-151-3 is hardly the strongest rebuttal. The thinking was they would be at their strongest on a dry pitch in the fourth innings – but the Test is a long way from reaching that stage.
View from the dressing room
Since my debut, a lot's gone on. I had hard, difficult phases and injuries and obviously a lot of time on the sidelines. I think that makes you appreciate and value getting the opportunity and then getting another (hundred) today was amazing— Ben Foakes
Foakes reflects on the various ups and downs since his Test debut in Galle in November 2018 – where he made a memorable century.
Boasting a 241-run lead overnight, England are firmly in the box seat and will look to James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Ollie Robinson to ram home a dominant position. With a bit of turn on offer, Jack Leach could also come into the equation. South Africa’s first job is to wipe out the deficit.