Cricket World Cup 2019: Ben Stokes proves class and Jofra Archer quells England debate in opener

England, home team and title favourites, comfortably dispatched mettlesome South Africa side at The Oval

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 30: Ben Stokes of England celebrates taking the catch of Andile Phehlukwayo of South Africa with his teammates during the Group Stage match of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 between England and South Africa at The Oval on May 30, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)
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Brief scoreline:

Toss: South Africa, elected to bowl first

England (311-8): Stokes 89, Morgan 57, Roy 54, Root 51; Ngidi 3-66

South Africa (207): De Kock 68, Van der Dussen 50; Archer 3-27, Stokes 2-12

The organisers of the 2019 Cricket World Cup have done their best to sprinkle some stardust. The 10 competing captains were hosted by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace on the evening before the first match.

Prince Harry took a break from daddy duties with new baby Archie to declare the tournament open.

Malala Yousafzai was at the opening ceremony, and had a dig at India in the only way a Nobel Peace Prize winner could possibly have a dig at anything. That is to say barely, and kindly.

On game day, cricketing royalty Sachin Tendulkar and Shane Warne were there. Kevin Pietersen, without even an official brief, wandered onto the outfield before the game to chat to his mate Jason Roy while the England opener was having some gentle throwdowns.

All of which was nice. But if they really wanted to market this tournament, they should have just made sure everyone knew Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer were playing.

England, the home team and favourites for this tournament, lived up to their billing as they comfortably dispatched a mettlesome South Africa side at The Oval.

The 104-run win was a show of power by a side with no clear weak link – but which is gilded by some sensational standout stars.

Stokes’ innings of 89 was fine. It was cleverly paced, and helped fortify England’s recovery after South Africa had made a startling start.

Imran Tahir, who was making history by becoming the first spinner ever to bowl the first over of a World Cup, had Jonny Bairstow caught at the wicket for a golden duck, off the second ball of the tournament.

Most people watching were stunned by the early onslaught South Africa made via their slowest bowler. England’s powerhouse batting line up barely missed a beat.

Four players made half centuries, starting with Roy, then Joe Root, and Eoin Morgan. Stokes was the last of them, but he top-scored and fell swinging in the last over, as England reached 311-8.

Not that his batting was remotely the most remarkable contribution he made to the match. If there has ever been a better catch in the history of World Cups than his diving, twisting, one-handed boundary effort to dismiss Andile Phehlukwayo then it deserves to be GIFed for all eternity.

It was “as good as it gets", according to opposing captain Du Plessis, who also suggested it was “no fluke” given his experience of playing alongside Stokes in franchise cricket.

His own captain was similarly complimentary. “We see him doing that sort of thing in training, and shake our heads,” Morgan said of Stokes.

It needed something like that to deprive Archer the limelight. To think a few weeks ago there was any sort of debate about whether he should play in this tournament or not. What a joke.

The new recruit played like an established star. He took three wickets bowling at rapid speeds, and sent South Africa opener Hashim Amla off retired hurt after hitting him in the grille with a 90mph bouncer.

“It gives us another string to our bow,” Morgan said of Archer. “We have two out and out quicks. For him to bowl as quick and accurately today on a slow wicket, shows he is in good form.”

To complete the rout, Stokes took two wickets in two balls. Which was just showing off.

“It is a relief to be off and running, it is great to get a win, and even better to play like that,” Morgan said.

Brief scoreline:

Toss: South Africa, elected to bowl first

England (311-8): Stokes 89, Morgan 57, Roy 54, Root 51; Ngidi 3-66

South Africa (207): De Kock 68, Van der Dussen 50; Archer 3-27, Stokes 2-12