It was like watching Adam Gilchrist and Garry Sobers rolled into one. It was magnificent viewing and shows just what talent this England team boast.
Stokes is not the only one. There are so many good players in both the Test and one-day teams. Kids growing up should want to be like Stokes, Joe Root, Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow, Moeen Ali, David Willey and Eoin Morgan. There is power to add as well with Sam Billings and James Vince coming through.
They are young, cool, play cricket in the right way, talk well and are nice lads to be around. Cricket has a springboard and must use it. Do not repeat the mistakes of 2005 when cricket had a big lift when we won the Ashes only to fall flat again.
It is so important now that English cricket exposes these guys and allows the public to know who they are and what makes them tick. Do not shut them away after this game and let the opportunity slip. You have to strike while you can.
Longer term, cricket is at a crossroads in England. Its profile is falling. We are producing these players from a system that needs to change and modernise. I beg the administration at the England and Wales Cricket Board to grab this opportunity because in 25 years’ time we might look back and say it was this team that changed the game.
Look at the 80,000 spectators at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Saturday for a Twenty20 Big Bash game. Why can’t we aim high and play Twenty20 matches at Wembley or the Olympic Stadium, attracting 60,000-70,000 fans.
Why are we happy if we sell out 25,000 at Old Trafford? Great, but why can’t we aim higher and do something we have never done before? For the first time in generations we have the players to do it.
The game has to be brave and make some bold decisions. Build a proper Twenty20 competition to rival the Big Bash and Indian Premier League. Cut prices and play the odd game at massive venues away from traditional cricket grounds. I know Tom Harrison, the ECB chief executive, and the chairman, Colin Graves, want to make changes. I hope tradition and
conservatism does not block their ambition.
Look at rugby with Saracens playing at Wembley or rugby league when it went from a winter to summer sport. Everyone said it would not work. They said the same about the Super League final at Old Trafford. Now they sell out that match within a day. You cannot tell me rugby league is a bigger sport than cricket and yet they get 75,000 for a game at Old Trafford and one of their players, Kevin Sinfield, came second in Sports Personality of the Year.
Cricket needs to make changes on the back of this great set of lads we have on our hands.
I would pay to watch these guys. The biggest praise I can give Stokes is that in the final session on day one he played like Gilchrist and on Sunday like Sobers, clearing his leg and hitting on the on side. I did not see Sobers live and have only watched him on YouTube but Stokes played the same shots by pulling and flicking the ball into the stands, combined with an effortless ability to launch it down the ground for six.
He has a simple approach. He is not a historian of the game. I doubt if he knows who I am or anything about the former players. I like that. It is refreshing. He just plays the game for what it is. It is a red ball coming at him, he looks to whack it and keeps it dead straightforward.
There will be moments when he makes mistakes and even his dismissal here was another quirky way to get out, which he has a habit of doing. But then there will be moments when in a two-hour session he will take apart any attack in the world.
The hundreds he has scored so far prove the point. He made one at Perth in 2013 against Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris, the best combination I have seen bowl in my time. He scored another against New Zealand at Lord’s last May when England were under pressure in dicey conditions facing Trent Boult and Tim Southee, two of the best around now.
Yes, this one was made against a weakened South Africa attack but Cape Town is their fortress and they had a chance on the first evening to fight their way back in the series.
Gilchrist was before his time in the way he took the game to the opposition. It was during that final hour of the first day when I realised English cricket had a real superstar because Stokes did exactly what Gilchrist used to do. He attacked the second new ball and made the opposition captain look very average, with five fielders spread on the boundary for the last over of the day.
In Stokes, England have a cricketer who will cause headaches for teams all around the world. There will be many team meetings dedicated to try to work out how to stop him when he is flying.
The only way to attack attacking players is to fight fire with fire. We coped with Gilchrist by attacking him with aggressive fields. The only way we could stop him was by getting him out. If you just let him spread the field and hope he hits one down deep midwicket’s throat, then very often you take a hiding.
South Africa captain Hashim Amla missed a massive trick on that first evening with the second new ball. He should have attacked but instead an edge went through vacant third slip. The field was spread and bowlers started to panic.
Amla had to get hold of his bowlers and say ‘We are going to bowl full of length with the new ball’ and attack with the field. But he did not and it was the moment South Africa lost the Test.