With England eight down in their third innings at Cape Town, leading by over 400, and opener Dom Sibley still unbeaten, the question in the minds of statisticians wasn’t when Joe Root would declare, but if he would at all, with Sibley in sight of becoming the ninth Englishman to carry his bat in a Test innings.
Root’s declaration put a stop to that, and to the Warwickshire man’s hopes of becoming just the fifth England opener to reach 150 in a Test innings this century, but there was still plenty to interest the numbers men in England’s eventual 391-8. Sibley finished with 19 fours to his name, a mark beaten by only four English openers this century – Alastair Cook, Michael Vaughan, Andrew Strauss, and Marcus Trescothick – while the list of players who have faced more than his 311 balls is also an exclusive one.
Rory Burns went one better during his Ashes century at Edgbaston, facing 312 balls in all, but only four others have done so since 2000. That list doesn’t include Andrew Strauss, who faced a high of 303 balls opening the innings, though did face 343 balls in his career-best 177 against New Zealand in 2008 batting at number three.
Elsewhere Ben Stokes thrilled England fans by smashing 72 off 47 balls, a mini-repeat of his record-breaking double century at Cape Town four years hence. Though he was cut short this time, he still ended up with the third-highest strike rate for a Test innings of 50 or more by an Englishman. Fittingly, only Andrew Flintoff and Ian Botham are ahead of him on that particular list.
There was also small reason to cheer for Stuart Broad with the bat. Though he only made eight, that was still his highest Test score overseas for nearly two years, since his 12 against New Zealand at Christchurch in March 2018. As soon as he scored the two runs to take him past the six he made in the second innings at Centurion. Perhaps that’s the milestone Root was waiting for.