Magic in the air

It was a blinder right on the mid-wicket fence. The ball was travelling like a missile when Andile Phehlukwayo struck leg-spinner Adil Rashid with brutal force. Ben Stokes sprinted, then leapt high, arched his back and pouched a sensational catch.

England players and fans celebrate the wicket of South Africa’s Andile Phehlukwayo as they watch Ben Stokes complete a breathtaking catch on the big screen.   -  Reuters

It is not often that you take a blinder so close to the ropes. You generally hold on to such catches, at point, gully, slip or square-leg, where the ball slices through the air at great speed.

Yet, this was a blinder right on the mid-wicket fence. The ball was travelling like a missile when Andile Phehlukwayo struck leg-spinner Adil Rashid with brutal force.

Ben Stokes sprinted, then leapt high, arched his back and pouched a sensational catch. Then, Stokes ensured that despite the momentum that carried him forward and his body twisting for a gravity-defying act, he retained his balance to fall inside the playing area.

South Africa, pursuing 312 and disintegrating on the chase at the Oval in this World Cup opener, had lost another wicket with Phehlukwayo’s promising innings terminated by a moment of sheer brilliance.

Stokes’ incredible catch was several compartments of fielding and catching blended into one. First was anticipation, the starting point of any catch. Then arrived the attributes of an athlete, speed as he sprinted and the manner he got his feet off the ground. Crucially, Stokes got the most important element right. He timed his jump to perfection. And this ball of great velocity nestled in the reverse-cupped right hand stuck out high.

It was also a match where the all-action Stokes came up with a valuable innings of 89 and then bowled with verve to scalp two.

It was also a day when the big and strong Stokes took flight with the grace of a ballet dancer. And there was magic in the air.