Stokes claimed the last three wickets in the space of 14 deliveries deep into the concluding session of the match as England wrapped up a series-levelling 189-run win in Cape Town.
Not only was it a first success for England at the famous Newlands ground since 1957, it was also an outstanding advert for the long-form story-telling that is five-day Test cricket – a format at this very moment in danger of being curtailed by administrators.
Starting the day chasing eight wickets to square the series at 1-1, Joe Root’s side still needed five after tea as the Proteas dug deep on a passive surface.
At various stages it seemed a doomed pursuit in sapping heat, but the tourists rallied triumphantly at the death with Stokes blowing away Dwaine Pretorius and Anrich Nortje with consecutive balls, then finishing off last man Vernon Philander with 8.2 overs remaining.
Asked how good the tourists’ win was for the current series, the 28-year-old man said: “Brilliant. When you have results in the first two games, it makes things very interesting.
“We will all remember this for a long time and I’m sure South Africa will remember it for a long time.
“It will go down as one of the greats.
“(This is) why five-day cricket should always be around. It’s the best format of the game and it makes cricket and games like these just unforgettable.”
Allied to his six catches at second slip – a joint England record among non-wicketkeepers – and the swashbuckling 72 which bought England time in the second innings, Stokes’ final rally completed yet another remarkable chapter for the sport’s hero of the hour.
England captain Joe Root feels the Durham man deserves all the praise coming his way.
“You can throw the ball to him or put him in any situation and you know he’s going to stand up for you,” the Yorkshireman said.
“He’s going to do absolutely everything for the rest of the guys, he plays 100 per cent for the team and he’s a brilliant role model for all the other guys coming through.
“Brilliant senior player. He stands up and puts in a spell like that, keeps running in for you all the time and we know – as we’ve seen with the bat – he can really change the game for you from any situation.
“He’s a world-class player and deserves all the plaudits from this game.”
Root was impressed not only by Stokes but by “a brilliant performance by the whole group of players”.
He continued: “We’ve shown a great amount of character, patience and a lot of belief today.
“Credit to South Africa. They threw a lot back at us today and made it very difficult, but the guys really stood up and put in a brilliant performance.
“We also had an unbelievable 12th man with us this week – the crowd have been outstanding.
“It’s been such a great atmosphere, it almost felt like a home game.
“It’s a brilliant way to start the year.”
Bowler Stuart Broad savoured a “very special” victory, which was played out in front of thousands of travelling fans.
“The crowd has been exceptional, an incredible day’s play and a great Test match,” said Broad.
“We had to work incredibly hard.
We knew we were going to have to do that from (Monday’s) play – incredible discipline from South Africa throughout the day.
“But we kept saying, ‘One bit of magic. Let’s try some funky fields. One breakthrough and we can apply some pressure’.”
Broad was full of praise for Stokes following his brilliant late spell with the ball and also the team’s all-round fielding display.
“Stokesy’s finish and the catching towards the end is something we’ve worked a lot towards,” added Broad.
“We’re very proud of the standard of taking our chances and the character we’ve shown throughout the Test match.
“Stokesy’s innings (on Monday) gave us the impetus to have more overs at South Africa and we needed them.”
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