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‘Controlled’ Ben Stokes shows England the way with century as hosts take charge against South Africa in Manchester

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Friday was always going to be a big day for Ben Stokes.

It was the day his candid documentary Phoenix from the Ashes was released, a film in which he goes into granular detail about the difficulties he has faced over recent years. From the Bristol incident to the death of his father. Suffering debilitating panic attacks. Taking anxiety medication.

But he also had a big job to do on the field against South Africa after striding to the crease with his side still four runs behind and five wickets down after Proteas paceman Anrich Nortje had dismissed Zak Crawley and Jonny Bairstow caught behind during a searing five-over spell.

It was a job he performed to perfection as he and fellow centurion Ben Foakes helped England carve out a first-innings advantage of 264.

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There seemed a chance Stokes’ knock would be over shortly after it had begun when an apparent twinge of the knee – a joint that has been giving him gip all summer – left him grimacing.

Treatment did the trick, though, and he carried on with an innings in which South Africa’s bowlers occasionally got the treatment.

There were nine boundaries in Stokes’ 103 from 163 balls – six fours and three sixes. So, yes, it was an innings of belligerence at times but beauty, too, And brains. A perfect balance of attack and defence.

It was the sort of innings we have seen Stokes play numerous times over the years, just not this summer.

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The consensus has been that Stokes has been too frenetic of late, too eager to lead from the front and get this forward-thinking England side ahead of the game by sacrificing himself. Kevin Pietersen even said Stokes was “devaluing his wicket” after one febrile cameo against India.

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But this was different. The intent was there – see sixes over the leg-side off Simon Harmer and a gorgeous straight four off Lungi Ngidi after skipping down the pitch. There was no timidity. But there was a patience. A willingness to get himself in before getting on with it.

Stokes took 101 deliveries to reach his half-century – the milestone clinched with one of the sixes off Harmer – but then just a further 57 to reach three figures. His strike rate for the innings was 63.19.

Game-advancing but also example-setting.

Sky Sports Cricket expert Kumar Sangakkara said: “It was an incredible innings, not just in the context of the game but in the context of the messaging around how this team should be playing in this new culture.

“I spoke to Brendon McCullum this morning and he was very bullish about being positive but not reckless and it was a great example by the captain, the leader of setting the tone.

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“He mixed aggression with smartness. The longer this English team commit to this process, they will learn and become smarter.”

Sangakkara’s fellow Sky Sports pundit Michael Atherton added: “I was impressed with Stokes. There has been conversation about his batting, which has sometimes gone too far to the aggressive side, but I thought he played in a really controlled fashion.

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“Earlier in the summer, he perhaps didn’t get that right or wanted to say to the team, ‘this is how we are going to play’. But when he came down the pitch here, it was controlled. He wasn’t coming down to have a big wahoo.

“There was certainty and calmness, a better tempo to his game. He soaked up the pressure and then moved through the gears.”

Stokes, speaking to Sky Sports on Saturday morning, said: “We have been vocal with how we want to play and me being captain and leader of that, it was more showing lads it was okay to go out and do certain things.

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“I am a massive believer in leadership showing that and not expecting anyone else to do something you wouldn’t do.

“We got an understanding of the wicket. It didn’t feel like a wicket where you could stand there and hit through the line. Some balls were bouncing, some balls were skidding, there was reverse swing.

“But when we do have that positive mindset to score it makes things a lot easier. I went out there with the intention to get on the front foot and take scoring opportunities and it made my decision-making a lot easier.”

Foakes, who scored an unbeaten 113 and shared a 173-run stand with Stokes for England’s sixth wicket, said of his skipper: “Everyone wants a piece of Ben but the way he played was pretty special.

“Ben was quite clear – he said ‘we can absorb as well, this is a difficult phase. Let’s make it up and score where we can, let’s be busy, but don’t do anything stupid’. That’s what we went with.”

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On the day Stokes’ documentary displayed his importance to England off the field, his batting showed how vital he is for them on it.

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Former NFL star OJ Simpson dies

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OJ Simpson, the former American football star turned actor who was controversially cleared of double murder, has died aged 76.

Simpson died of cancer on Wednesday “surrounded by his children and grandchildren”, a family statement read.

San Francisco-born Orenthal James Simpson rose to fame in college before playing in the NFL.

In 1995, he was acquitted of the murder of his former wife Nicole Brown and her friend in a trial that gripped America.

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In 2008, he was sentenced to 33 years’ imprisonment on unrelated charges of armed robbery. He was released in 2017.

In 1994, Simpson was arrested as a suspect in the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ron Goldman. The pair were found stabbed to death outside Ms Brown’s home in Los Angeles. Simpson became an immediate person of interest in the case.

On the day he was due to turn himself in, he fled in a white Ford Bronco with a former teammate, and led the police on a slow-speed chase through the Los Angeles area.

That chase engrossed audiences in the United States and abroad as it was broadcast live on “rolling” 24-hour news channels still in their relative infancy.

In the ensuing court case, dubbed the “trial of the century” by US media, prosecutors argued Simpson had killed Brown in a jealous fury. Evidence included blood, hair and fibre tests linking Simpson to the murders.

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The defence argued Simpson was framed by police who were motivated by racism.

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In one of the trial’s most memorable moments, prosecutors asked Simpson to put on a pair of blood-stained gloves allegedly found at the scene of the murder, but Simpson struggled to fit his hands into them. It led to one of Simpson’s lawyers, Johnnie Cochrane, telling the jury in his closing arguments: “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

The jury ultimately sided with Simpson, who had declared he was “absolutely 100% not guilty”. The acquittal proved hugely controversial.

The families of Ms Smith and Mr Goldman did not give up – they pursued a civil case against Simpson in 1997 and a jury found Simpson liable for the two deaths. He was ordered to pay $33.5m (£25.8m) in damages to their families.

In 2006, Simpson sold a book manuscript, titled “If I Did It”, and a prospective TV interview, giving a “hypothetical” account of the murders he had always strenuously denied.

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Public objections ended both projects, but Mr Goldman’s family secured the book rights, added material imputing guilt to Simpson and had it published.

Simpson’s final disgrace came in 2008, when he was convicted of armed robbery for breaking into a Las Vegas hotel room with four accomplices, holding two sports memorabilia dealers at gunpoint and stealing items related to his NFL career.

He was sentenced to 33 years in jail, but was granted parole after serving the minimum of nine years.

Before his legal problems, Simpson was well-liked, known as an athlete, actor and the face of several major companies.

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He was a college football star at University of Southern California before signing with the Buffalo Bills in 1969, where he played until 1977.

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He became one of the greatest ball carriers in NFL history. In 1973, he was the first NFL player to “rush” – running to advance the ball for his team – more than 2,000 yards in a season.

He retired in 1979 to concentrate on a career in film and television. His credits include roles in the Towering Inferno, Capricorn One and the Naked Gun series.

Broadcaster Bob Costas, who worked with Simpson on NBC’s American football coverage, said that while he was not the first African American star, “he was the first to do it in a big way, an African American who broke through”.

The Heisman Trophy organization, which names college football’s player of the season, said in a tweet that it mourned the 1968 winner and extended sympathies to his family.

In a statement, the Pro Football Hall of Fame outlined Simpson’s achievements as an NFL player, and said records of those contributions would be preserved in its archive.

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Fred Goldman, Ronald’s father, described Simpson’s death as “no great loss”.

“The only thing I have to say is it’s just further reminder of Ron being gone all these years,” he told the NBC News network. “It’s no great loss to the world. It’s a further reminder of Ron’s being gone.”

Caitlyn Jenner, once part of Simpson’s social circle, echoed Goldman, posting two words on Twitter/X: “Good riddance.”

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PSG to pay huge buyout fee for Osimhen

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Both top French and Italian media outlets have reported that PSG is ready to pay the massive buyout fee set by Napoli for Victor Osimhen.

The fee is believed to be around €130 million.

Various publications from both France and Italy said Osimhen, whose valuation by Transfermarkt is put at €110 million, is the No 1 target for PSG to replace Kylian Mbappe.

Mbappe is widely expected to finally make his way to Real Madrid after many months of speculations.

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By meeting the buyout fee for Osimhen, PSG will therefore not have to negotiate with Napoli.

Osimhen has also been linked to several top Premier League clubs, but they would rather prefer to pay far less than the striker’s buyout fee.

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Liverpool back to top after thrashing Sheffield United

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Liverpool are back to the top of the English Premier League after thrashing Sheffield United 3-1 at the Anfield Stadium in London.

Liverpool took the lead in the 17th minute of the match. Keeper Ivo Grbic totally miss-kicked his clearance straight to Darwin Nunez, who rifled the ball back into the net from close range.

In the 58th minute, Conor Bradley scored an unlucky own goal. He deflects a shot into his own net to make it 1-1.

In the 76th minute, Liverpool made it 2-1. The ball rebounded and arrived at the feet of Alexis Mac Allister just outside the box. He fired a brilliant shot into the top right corner. His attempt was beyond the reach of Ivo Grbic.

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In the 90th minute, Liverpool made it 3-1. Andrew Robertson showcased his brilliant technique and produced a beautiful lofted cross into the box. Cody Gakpo got onto the scoresheet by heading it low inside the right post.

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