Ben Stokes believes he may never play another innings as dominant as his record-breaking 258 against South Africa.
Stokes’s two previous Test centuries were both gems – a gutsy 120 in Perth on his second appearance, followed last summer by the fastest century in a Lord’s Test – but he touched new heights on day two in Cape Town.
He reeled off the second-fastest double-century in Test history, needing just 163 balls, and finished with a staggering boundary count of 30 fours and 11 sixes.
It was a delirious example of muscular strokeplay and formed the majority share of a mammoth 399-run stand with Yorkshire’s Jonny Bairstow, who turned his maiden Test century into an unbeaten 150.
England declared on 629-6 and had the Proteas 141-2 at stumps, a lead of 488.
“I probably won’t play like this ever again in my life whilst playing cricket, but I’ve done it once so at least I can say that,” said Stokes.
“I normally say ‘crikey’ when I get to 30, to be honest, so I kept on looking at the scoreboard.
“I felt a little bit of pressure coming into the game, having not got many runs under my belt before this, so there was a lot more emotion than I normally show when I got to the hundred but I just tried to keep on going.
“It hasn’t quite sunk in yet.”
Stokes came out of the traps with remarkable haste, adding 130 runs in the first session alone, and claimed his success was built around the simplest game plan of all.
“It was ‘see ball, hit ball’, I guess,” he chuckled. “I wasn’t thinking of any landmarks as I went along, I was just trying to hit as many boundaries as I could because it was too hot to run.”
At one stage captain Alastair Cook sent out a message asking Stokes about the declaration target and Stokes’s personal goal of 300.
Stokes had a simple response for his captain.
“I just said it doesn’t really matter because I’m trying to hit every ball for six from now on anyway,” he said. “Do what you want.”
Bairstow had to play second fiddle on the day, a curious position for a man who made 150 in 191 balls to end his hunt for a Test ton.
Despite the beguiling brutality displayed by Stokes, one of the most memorable moments of the day came when the Yorkshire wicketkeeper reached three figures. It was a magical moment two generations in the making, with Bairstow’s late father David playing four Tests between 1979 and 1981.
Stokes made a point of leaving Bairstow alone to soak up the moment before embracing his partner.