Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow provided England’s first great sporting moment of 2016 with a stunning 399-run stand on day two of the second Test against South Africa.
Stokes lit up Cape Town with one of the most dominant batting performances in living memory, mercilessly flogging the home attack on his way to 258 in 198 balls, including the second-fastest double century in Test history.
Yorkshire’s Bairstow followed his lead with 150 not out, a maiden Test hundred, before the declaration came at 629-6.
A shell-shocked South Africa looked as though they might fold when Stiaan van Zyl ran himself out for four, but finished a manic day in relative calm as AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla (64 not out) saw their side to 141-2.
Stokes, inevitably, took the second wicket to complete what was one of the greatest days by an English cricketer on a foreign field.
Earlier he and Bairstow laid waste to the record books – and a bedraggled, bewildered bowling attack – chalking up a slew of new landmarks with their muscular free-hitting.
This was not a day to define numerically, with stroke play too visceral, joyous and sustained to reduce to lines on a spreadsheet, but a few of the key landmarks warrant a mention.
As well as Stokes moving second behind Nathan Astle’s 153-ball marvel in the list of the fastest 200s of all time, he also recorded the top innings by a Test No 6 and broke the English record for sixes in an innings with 11.
The partnership was the best between a sixth-wicket pair, England’s second-highest for any wicket and also the fastest 300 stand in history.
South Africa were without the injured trio of Dale Steyn, Kyle Abbott and Vernon Philander, but England, and Stokes in particular, treated the bowling attack like rank imposters.
Morne Morkel, a veteran of 68 Tests and a taker of 232 wickets, finished with 1-114 and somehow ended as the most economical of four front-line bowlers.
Yet this was still the world’s No 1 side on a Newlands pitch they regard as a fortress; it was still staggering viewing.
In the first session England splurged with 196 runs in 25 overs – another England record, this time for runs in a single session – and after the break piled on another 116 in 13.5 overs.
It was a thrilling, bravura show from Stokes, who also hit 30 fours, and at times verged on the cruel as South Africa visibly fell to pieces in the field.
There were memorable moments everywhere, probably enough to fill an end-of-year highlights reel, starting when Stokes moved from 74no to 100 from his first 12 balls of the day.
He celebrated with gusto, little knowing he would be raising his bat three more times in the next couple of hours.
South Africa were guilty of dropping too short too often, Stokes pulling lustily almost every time, but when they went fuller he punched four through mid-on or lofted over mid-off.
When Dane Piedt’s off-spin arrived Stokes appeared almost offended, warming up with a reverse-swept four then unloading five mighty sixes in four overs.
He reached 150 with a six and 200 with a four, having taken just 58 balls over his second century, with Bairstow reaching lunch on 95.
When the latter passed three figures, in front of his watching mother and sister, it was an emotional moment.
The 26-year-old looked twice to the skies as he soaked up the moment, perhaps sparing a thought for his late father David, who played four Tests between 1979 and 1981.
Bairstow opened his shoulders thereafter, racing from 100 to 150 in 30 balls and being hopelessly dropped by Morkel on 138.
Stokes’s dismissal also came after a dreadful drop, by De Villiers, who spared his own blushes by throwing down the stumps as Stokes ball-watched.
After almost 10 hours in the field, Van Zyl lasted a mere 12 balls before being run out looking to poach a single, leaving the tea score at 24-1.
Stokes’s golden day continued when he drew a thick edge from Dean Elgar midway through the evening session, but key men De Villiers and Amla dug in for the close.
De Villiers had been dropped on five by Bairstow’s Yorkshire clubmate Joe Root, a sharp but manageable chance off James Anderson, but England’s position remained imposing thanks to the early fireworks from Stokes and Bairstow.