When Stokes produced his genre-defining leap to dismiss Andile Phehlukwayo, intercepting a seemingly lost cause one-handed on the deep-midwicket boundary, it was a moment of solo glory to savour.
But it was also part of a relentlessly constrictive team performance as every fielder supported the bowling effort to help keep the reply down to 207 chasing 312.
Jason Roy was instrumental to the effort, pulling off a number of brilliant diving stops at backward point, and made it clear how important the sport’s third discipline has become within the England ranks.
“The fielding performance was as good as it gets from us,” he said.
“We pride ourselves on our fielding and we have been disappointed quite a lot with our fielding over the last year. We’ve been incredible with the bat and ball but our fielding has sometimes let us down.
“The boys turned up and showed what we are about on the big stage and in the big game so we’re really proud.
“It all gets logged and the analyst told us it was our best ever fielding performance, which is pretty impressive.”
Such precise claims are hard to make, fielding data is a young but thriving endeavour and also relies somewhat on the subjective views of those collating the information.
But Cricviz, the statistical company co-founded by England analyst Nathan Leamon, carry numbers dating back to May 2016 and rank Thursday’s overall tally of 65 runs saved as the highest recorded in one-day internationals.
England’s share of that was 35 – a particularly impressive showing given South Africa were dismissed with 10.1 overs still remaining.
Beyond the spreadsheets, though, lies a hunger to excel. Roy might be best known for his fearless hitting at the top of the order, and kicked off his competition with a solid 54, but takes almost as much pleasure in saving runs as scoring them.
“Absolutely there’s a buzz,” he said. “It is definitely a way of being in the game because I’m not a bowler, I’m just out there to field, so if I don’t do so well with the bat then I can add to my performance.
“Stokesy practices for moments like that catch and we all know our roles in the field. There isn’t a lot of chat, we just say be ruthless and show our skills off. We go out there, enjoy ourselves and show what we’re made of.”
On another day, had South Africa succeeded in chasing England’s 311 or at least come within a couple of blows of doing so, there might have been another primary talking point.
Adil Rashid thought he had bowled Quinton de Kock for 25 when the opener played a googly into his off stump. Usually, the batsman would expect to be on his way but despite the stump lights being triggered the flashing ‘Zing’ bails were not dislodged.
Several similar incidents were detected in the recent Indian Premier League and although the additional 43 runs scored by De Kock were ultimately a moot point, it is easy to see how games could swing on such moments. The issue came up in the home dressing room and it is clearly a cause of growing dissatisfaction.
“(It was) weird. The umpire said it just came off his bat and not the stumps, but he obviously didn’t see the bail light up,” said Roy. “Stokesy said it has happened to him five times this year, a few times at the IPL, so they are going to have to sort something out there.”