LONDON (AFP): Despite a major work by Dean Elgar, who composed a defiant 136, England defeated the South Africans by another almighty margin – 239 runs. Joe Root and his squad now head to Old Trafford in a buoyant mood after this copybook victory, which came at a rush, with a Moeen Ali hat-trick polishing off the innings.
That was the icing on the cake, but the major advance in this match has been the advent of new Test bowler. Suddenly an integral part of that squad is Toby Roland-Jones, who enhanced an already burgeoning reputation by making the key breakthrough on the sunniest day of the match.
Elgar and Temba Bavuma had batted without a blemish for almost an hour when Roland-Jones bounded in from the Pavilion end. Soon he managed to beat the inside edge of Bavuma’s bat to take him on the front pad. Aleem Dar, the umpire, was not inclined to raise his finger but after consultation England asked for a review and all the criteria were fulfilled. When the ball strikes Bavuma’s pads above the knee-roll it is no guarantee that it is heading over the stumps. Here was confirmation that England have been more adept at using the decision review system in this match than at Nottingham. A disconsolate Bavuma had to go.
Out came Vernon Philander, who played a captain’s innings. Sadly in this context that means padding up to a straight ball – the first he received – so that he was palpably lbw (no review necessary this time) just as Faf du Plessis has been twice in this match
Thus Roland-Jones had set England on their way. He took eight wickets in the match on his unforgettable debut; the last player to do that for England was James Kirtley at Nottingham against South Africa in 2003. Kirtley only played three more Tests for England after that; Roland-Jones can expect more. There are four more this summer and he will take some shifting from the side after this performance.
After all the headaches over England’s best batting line-up, which still remain despite the encouraging start by Tom Westley, the selectors can at least allow themselves a smidgeon of congratulation over the elevation of Roland-Jones. The pecking order among the pacemen has not been overhauled after this match but the options available have expanded significantly. Chris Woakes and Mark Wood are still in the wings and trying to prove their fitness but now the urgency for their return is reduced by the debut of Roland-Jones.
There will be talk of rotation during the series against the West Indies, though it is highly unlikely that Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad will be volunteering to stand down. They remain hungry for Test wickets and an inexperienced West Indian side batting against a pink ball at Edgbaston in the first Test of that series might well provide quite a few of those. By then Woakes should be fully fit and he is – literally – the poster boy for that Test, as those who drive down Corporation Street in Birmingham can testify. England might want reintroduce him there.
The man most likely to suffer from Roland-Jones’ rise is probably Jake Ball, another paceman who has been hampered by injury this summer. Now Ball may be asking himself the question whether England will take five pacemen plus Stokes to Australia or six, which is fast becoming his preference.
Back at the Oval, meanwhile, England’s second spinner (they are not playing a first spinner in this match) had an impact at the end. Just before lunch Moeen found the outside edge of Chris Morris’s bat and Ben Stokes held a neat catch at slip. An even more satisfying dismissal was that of Elgar, who batted superbly for 227 balls when he was beguiled by a looped delivery outside his off-stump. Out came Kasigo Rabada to face another tempting off-break. Once again Stokes completed the business at slip.
Thus Moeen became the third Englishman to find himself on a hat-trick in this match, but the first to take one. Morne Morkel prodded forward but the umpire, Joel Wilson, declined to give the lbw. England reviewed and soon Moeen was engulfed by his jubilant team-mates. It has been noted before that Moeen has always been a much better bowler to left-handers. A hat-trick comprising exclusively of left-handed batsmen tends to confirm that. His was the first hat-trick ever taken in Test cricket at the Oval.
Against all odds and expectations (including his own one suspects) Moeen is now the leading wicket-taker in the series with 18. One difference between the Moeen of old (no, not his designation as the second spinner) is that he is often propelling the ball more slowly (at about 53mph) than in the past and also tossing it a little higher, subtle changes that seem to be working rather well. The delight of his team-mates at this hat-trick was touching for this most self-effacing and popular member of the side. He now takes his wickets for England more cheaply than John Emburey – and more quickly.
For South Africa there was very little to cheer except the innings of Elgar. He was craggy and resolute in defence yet when he attacked he did so with a free and easy swing of the bat, which sent the ball speeding to the boundary 20 times. But Elgar seems to be the only batsman among the tourists at ease with himself at the crease. The others do not have much time to recover their confidence. The fourth and final Test begins at Old Trafford on Friday.