After a commanding victory for England to take a 2-1 lead in the series, Paul Radley offers his thoughts on the Test match.
Roland-Jones's debut, Ali's hat-trick and the big talking points from The Oval Test
England retained the Basil D’Oliveira Trophy after their 239-run win in the third Test gave them a 2-1 lead over South Africa, with just the final match at Old Trafford left. If the victors proved one thing in London, it was that they remain consistently inconsistent. They had subsided to a heavy defeat last time out, yet were formidable at The Oval.
Toby rolled them over
Toby Roland-Jones has given himself a lot to live up to in the rest of his Test career. The 29-year-old debutant took eight wickets in the match, and he now has Hashim Amla for a bunny. Roland-Jones accounted for Amla twice in the match. South Africa’s leading batsman managed just 11 runs across the course of the two innings, at a ground where he once scored a Test triple century, and enjoyed a fruitful stint in county cricket. The Middlesex seam bowler only realistically landed this chance because of injuries to Mark Wood and Chris Woakes. He will be difficult to dislodge from the line-up now.
Use the bat
Much was made of the positive psychological impact Faf du Plessis’ return for the second Test match at Trent Bridge had on his South Africa side. They went from being a shambles at Lord’s in the opener to world beaters within days, with Du Plessis restored to the helm again. His presence was almost Jedi-like, according to the testimonies of his teammates. But he cannot just use the force. He still needs to use the bat occasionally, too. He perished twice in this game having opted to leave the ball rather than play it.
The 100th Oval Test match had the ultimate exclamation mark when Moeen Ali ended it with three wickets in three balls. Quirkily, it was the third time in the innings an England bowler had been on a hat-trick. Ben Stokes dismissed Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis in successive deliveries. Toby Roland-Jones did similar to Temba Bavuma and Vernon Philander. They were both denied hat-tricks of their own, though. And Moeen was, too – at least initially, when Joel Wilson, the umpire, turned down his appeal for having Morne Morkel leg-before. The match ended when England’s television review was upheld, giving Moeen the first Test hat-trick for an England spinner in 79 years.
This has been a wildly fluctuating series. England won the first Test by miles, South Africa won the second by even more, and then a chastened England reverted back to dominance again. If one player personifies the undulations, it is Chris Morris. The tall fast bowler was not even selected for the first game. Recalled for the second in a revamped Proteas line-up, he was a telling figure in victory, taking five wickets and bowling with rare hostility. Then at The Oval he was back to zero again, leaking 161 runs from 28 overs, an economy rate of 5.75. Any chance of some consistency, anyone?
Cook’s recipe for success
There were two centurions in the match: Ben Stokes and Dean Elgar. Stokes was named man of the match, justifiably, given his first-innings 112, his ante-upping 31 in the second, his three key wickets, as well as the four catches he held. But the defining innings of the match was broadly forgotten in the final count up. England’s batsmen had been lambasted for not placing enough value on their wickets during the landslide defeat in the Nottingham Test. Cue a lesson in doughty resistance from opener Alastair Cook, the former captain and master of the genre. His 200-ball 88 in the first innings, when conditions favoured the bowlers, turned the match in England’s favour.