England maintained their new-found liking for record breaking as they beat South Africa in the first one-day international on the back of their highest-ever total on foreign soil.
Jos Buttler’s fourth ODI century, after being promoted to four, was the catalyst for a total of 399 for nine that proved 39 runs too many for the Proteas on the Duckworth-Lewis Method after rain forced an early end in Bloemfontein.
Quinton de Kock responded with a century of his own, striking 138 from 96 balls to confirm his own status as one of the best young batsmen in the world, but not even that was enough to deny England.
Stokes’ most memorable contribution to the match, however, came in the field where he pulled off a stunning catch, to dismiss AB de Villiers, that will sit proudly in his ever-increasing highlight reel.
The world’s number-one ranked batsman was left to watch on in disbelief – not to mention everyone else inside the Mangaung Oval – as Stokes made significant ground from long-on before plucking the ball out of the air when it appeared a six was the only possible outcome.
It was a critical moment in the Proteas’ runchase as no other batsman was able to provide the required support to De Kock as England’s bowlers chipped away at the other end.
Moeen Ali was the best rewarded, with figures of 3-43, as South Africa reached 250 for five from 33.3 overs before the rain set in.
England have been a team reborn since their premature World Cup exit in March last year and they made sure that form continued into their first white-ball match of the new year.
Roy smacked a 30-ball 48 while Hales’ half-century was equally as brisk before Morgan took the decision to promote Buttler to four with the score 130 for two in the 18th over.
— Sky Sports Cricket (@SkyCricket) February 3, 2016
It was a tactic that worked wonders in Dubai last November, when Buttler crunched the fastest England ODI century from 46 balls.
England posted 355 five that day – their previous highest total on foreign soil – and that mark was smased apart in Bloemfontein as Buttler hit 11 fours and five sixes in his 105 from 76 balls.
It is a measure of the 25-year-old’s power that his century, from 73 balls, was the slowest of the four tons he has made for England in the format.
With the wicketkeeper-batsman thundering along – and offering a timely reminder to Indian Premier League franchises ahead of Saturday’s auction – England could afford cameos at the other end with Root scoring at a shade under a run-a-ball for his 52 while Stokes’ 57 came from only 38 balls.
England’s all-time ODI record score of 408 for nine, set against New Zealand at Edgbaston last summer and when Buttler also hit a ton, had appeared within sight until late wickets left them a run short of reaching 400 for just the second time.
South Africa began their replay knowing that 10 years ago they had reeled in record ODI pursuit of 434 for four against Australia in Johannesburg, but were set back in just the third over when David Willey got Hashim Amla to chop on.
De Kock and Faf du Plessis then combined in the only century partnership of the match and with De Villiers still in the shed – the only Proteas player still left from that Wanderers’ match against Australia – thoughts of another remarkable runchase remained.
Du Plesiss and De Kock both reached their fifties from 37 balls although Moeen thought he had the former soon after only for the South African to correctly review an lbw decision.
Moeen’s disappointment lasted only an over as Du Plessis picked out Hales in the deep before he had a second soon after when Stokes pulled off his wonder catch to remove De Villiers for eight.
With the rain now threatening to sweep in the Proteas had the added concern of the Duckworth-Lewis Method calculation to take into account with England appreciably ahead.
De Kock set about bridging that gap as he intelligently hit with a strengthening breeze to clear the ropes but England made impoartnt breakthroughs at the other end.
Reece Topley fooled JP Duminy into chipping a return catch before Rilee Rossouw miscued Moeen into the deep just before the rain finally arrived for good with England comfortably ahead, albeit with De Kock threatening to take the game to the wire.
The second match of the five-game series is in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.