South Africa v England: Big scores the main target for Ben Stokes and England

England will put their big-hitting exploits to the test again as they target a 2-0 series lead over South Africa.

Ben Stokes.

Jos Buttler’s century powered England to 399-9 in Bloemfontein – their highest overseas total in one-day internationals – en route to a Duckworth-Lewis victory by 39 runs.

It extended a remarkable spike in a graph which contains five of England’s seven all-time highest totals in the last eight months.

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After 45 years of previous attempts, only twice before last June – and curiously, never away from Trent Bridge – had they reached 350.

But since their World Cup embarrassment last winter, England have caught on brilliantly to the modern tempo.

Ben Stokes, who hit 57 from 38 balls on Wednesday, credits coach Trevor Bayliss and his assistant Paul Farbrace for instilling the necessary self-belief and freedom in a talented squad.

“They’ve had a big influence on the way we’re playing,” he said, before practice in Port Elizabeth for today’s second match of five.

“Since (last summer’s series against) New Zealand started, we’ve played exactly the same way and always wanted to post big totals and be aggressive.

“When you’ve got coaches backing you to play this attacking brand of cricket it’s a big help.”

Stokes confirms too that England will not be letting up any time soon.

“I think Adil (Rashid) came in at nine – so when you bat as deep as we do, then we should be posting big scores.

“That is how we want to play our cricket and if we come off, then we’re probably going to get totals like that more than not.

“We might have the odd game where we get bowled out for 260 or 270 going for that big score ... but 260 or 270 was a big score for England three or four years ago.”

It might just be a winning score too this weekend, at a ground which has yielded only five totals above 300 in 36 matches.

Yet if England bat first, they will be aiming high again – with a line-up which already appears to have spooked South Africa.

Faf du Plessis admits England’s strength in depth is disconcerting, but believes South Africa too can do some damage.

“It’s definitely not nice when you’re doing your pre-match planning, because every guy you look at seems to be like a batter,” he said. “It’s great for England, obviously why they’re a stronger team now, they’ve got a longer batting line-up.

“I think this series will be about the batting. Both bowling attacks are not as experienced, but the batting is very explosive, and you have a lot of match-winners in both teams.

“We need to try to stop their batters, and the same will apply to them.”

All-rounder Stokes can have a say with ball as well as bat, of course – and although his ODI career has yet to match his Test performances, he is beginning to find his range.

“I definitely feel confident.

“My one-day record is still nowhere near great, but it’s something to build on.”

For good measure, Stokes also pulled off a memorable catch in the first ODI – one-handed on the long-on boundary – to see off the dangerous AB de Villiers for a single-figure score.

De Villiers did not mind confirming afterwards a suspicion in the South Africa dressing-room that Stokes had possibly benefited from a little extra space, with the boundary rope jutting back from its usual position.

Stokes has taken no offence, and is happy to clarify.

“I was saying to the umpire to get the groundsman round to fix it (the rope) – so I wasn’t doing it on purpose.

“I think I caught the catch inside, but the celebration might have gone on to the boundary.

“But if the rope had been there, I wouldn’t have run that way.”

It was a telling moment in a tight match, and another reminder of Stokes’s all-round brilliance.

Modestly, though, he thinks he just got lucky.

“I thought I’d completely misjudged it, then stuck my hand out – and it managed to stick.

“I didn’t think about anything that was going on – it just happened. I thought I had messed it up, so it was a good way of making an easy catch difficult.”