Dom Sibley took 372 balls to score 120 across the first and second days in Manchester, but Ben Stokes – who shared a 260-run partnership with the opener – insisted the pace of his innings was not a concern.
Sibley's knock was the slowest hundred-plus score in the first innings of a Test match since another England opener – Nasser Hussain – scored a 463-ball 146* against South Africa in 1999. He eventually perished when he looked to go big off the bowling of Roston Chase in an attempt to up the run-rate.
The manner of Sibley's innings, which saw him leaving well and often, had drawn criticism from some corners for taking too much time out of the match, leaving England hard-pressed to push for the victory they need to maintain a chance of winning the series – particularly with poor weather forecast throughout the match. But vice-captain Stokes, whose 176 represented the first time he had scored more than 80 runs at a strike-rate of less than 50 in Tests, was adamant that Sibley had performed precisely the role England wanted him to.
"It's what he bases his game on," Stokes told Sky Sports on the morning of day three of the Test. "Having him at the top of the order to be that rock and allow everyone else to play around him is exactly what we want from him. He knows the job that he needs to do for us and he's performed it very well in a short period so far."
England's star all-rounder was particularly impressed by Sibley's ability to bounce back after being dismissed for a four-ball duck in the first innings of the first Test, leaving a ball that took his off stump.
"[I am] over the moon for Sibbers [Dom Sibley], fantastic that he's been able to go on and make some good scores, especially after the disappointment he would have felt after that first innings at the Ageas Bowl with such a long time off and obviously not starting very well, but to bounce back and get a fifty and then go on and get a big hundred yesterday I'm very pleased for him and I'm sure he's excited as well."
Stokes also surprised himself with how he batted alongside Sibley, facing over 100 balls more than he ever had before in a Test innings, and passing 300 balls faced in an innings for the first time along the way.
"To be honest I was more buzzing that I faced 300 balls than I was when I got a hundred!" he said in a press conference after play on the second day. "It's something I never thought I'd be capable of, facing 300 balls in an innings."
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