Another Test, another one sided result. England go 2-1 up in the series with the expected thumping win, even if they had to work for it just a little bit today. Each match in this series has been competitive only for the first couple of days, before playing out with one team dominating the other completely. To date it’s been reminiscent of the last Ashes series, where despite some rather hopeful comment about how good it had been, the reality was that it was frustratingly predictable after the opening exchanges in each match. It was topsy-turvy as a series for sure, but the individual games simply weren’t close. Since that point the pattern has continued, and even the Guardian noticed this morning how few England matches of recent vintage have been remotely close. It’s something that is begining to become prevalent in the Test game these days, and something to note when singling England out for not showing fight in the fourth innings – they aren’t alone. Certainly as far as this series is concerned, much the same can be levelled at South Africa at times, albeit Dean Elgar has shown everyone how to do it over the last couple of days.
That this match got as far as it did was down to him. Despite repeated blows to a damaged finger, he showed character, fought hard and took the runs when on offer with attacking fields. In short, he played a proper Test innings of the kind that appears to be going out of fashion. His clear disappointment when walking off the field to a standing ovation for a determined 136 was evidence if it were needed that he’d been intent on batting the day, if only anyone could have stayed with him.
For South Africa to have had any chance at all, they needed Elgar and Temba Bavuma to bat deep into the day, and the dismissal of the latter, and the exposing of the bowlers in the South African line up rather signalled the beginning of the end. Joe Root has had difficulties with the Decision Review System this series – too keen to send it upstairs for speculative appeals (or too prepared to listen to Jonny Bairstow according to one reading of it), but that’s the nature of a new captain learning who to trust and when to take the review option. Here was an example of using it supremely well, a straight ball jammed between bat and pad, but looking rather straight. Aleem Dar made the correct decision in giving it not out, for there was no way he could be sure whether it was bat or pad first (the temptation with the arrival of DRS must be to give those not out routinely anyway), but with it clear it was pad first on replay, it was no surprise to see it overturned.
If Bavuma’s lbw was tight, Vernon Philander’s was an omnishambles. A ball that didn’t swing or seam in, but was gunbarrel straight from the start, was unaccountably left alone. One of the easier decisions any umpire will ever have to make, and Toby Roland-Jones was on a hat-trick. He nearly got it too, the ball flying off the outside edge to a slip cordon diving in all directions to try and get a hand under it. Roland-Jones has had a fine match – not just with the ball either – and the eight wickets he took were good reward for the virtues of bowling line and length and nibbling it about a bit. Maybe it’ll catch on. Whether he will make a successful Test career or not is open to debate, but the England hierarchy often appear thoroughly obsessed with all seam bowlers being capable of high pace. It is a curiosity when in the opposite ranks this series there is someone who rarely gets above 80mph but causes teams everywhere no end of difficulty. That’s not to say for a moment that Roland-Jones can reach those kinds of levels, but it is peculiar that England don’t seem to notice when opposition players who don’t fit the established template succeed.
Elgar’s dismissal came just three balls from the end of the match, given he was the first of a hat-trick taken by Moeen Ali to finish proceedings in a rush. It was a fine delivery too, slower, loopy and angled into off stump before turning away to take the edge and be caught by Stokes at slip. The second to Rabada appeared almost a carbon copy, but the ball wasn’t quite as good, though given the difference in batting skill perhaps it didn’t need to be. Moeen then had to wait for Stokes to complete an over before being the third bowler to bowl a hat-trick ball in the match. This time, it came off, a straight ball to Morkel defeating the half lunge forward and crashing into the pad. It looked out live too, though the verdict was in the negative. The review was clear cut and with that he became the first England off spinner since 1938 to take three in three. It was also the first ever Test hat-trick at the Oval, only the third time a hat-trick has been taken to win a match (the last example being in 1902), and perhaps most remarkably of all this was the first instance in Test history of four batsmen being dismissed first ball in an innings. Finally, in the cricketing world of esoteric stat mining, a favourite has to be that it was also the first Test hat-trick where all three victims were left handed. If the outcome of the match had been beyond doubt for quite a while, it remained an astonishing way for it to finish.
With hindsight the difference in the match was probably England’s first innings. What appeared to be a reasonable total turned out to be a good one, and South Africa’s bowling not as consistent as perhaps it had seemed to be at the time. The loss of Philander to illness may well have been critical, for the others didn’t quite manage to fill the gap he left. South Africa may well have had the worst of the batting conditions under heavy cloud and floodlights, but the alternative to that is to go off the field when there is artificial light. If it’s not dangerous, then play should go on, and being on the receiving end of that is just bad luck of the same nature as being put into bat on a green seamer.
With such huge swings in fortunes both in this series and recently, especially involving England, it would be a brave pundit who would predict the outcome of the final match in the series at Old Trafford starting Friday. There is no reason to assume the frailties of the England side on show at Trent Bridge have been solved, indeed South Africa’s fourth innings resistance here was several order higher than England’s capitulation last time out. Judging by current patterns, it would seem mostly likely one team will thrash the other, with no real reason to be sure which way around that will be.
The England debutants had a mixed time of it – Roland-Jones was excellent, Tom Westley promising, while Dawid Malan didn’t get to make much of a contribution. In all three cases a single Test match explains nothing. Roland-Jones’ eight wickets in the match equalled the debut performance of Neil Mallender for example, not necessarily the career trajectory he would hope to duplicate, while plenty of batsmen who have had good careers didn’t do so well first time out. Whether Keaton Jennings did enough with his second innings 48 to retain his spot is more open to question, but the increasing frustration at the revolving door of England openers means that at some point they have to make a decision and keep to it for a time. Mark Stoneman is talked about as the next option, mostly because Haseeb Hameed has had a poor first class summer – but with little first class cricket to change that, it will still end up being about having an opener against the much weaker West Indies who has the chance to cash in and earn a place on the Ashes tour, with no one any the wiser as to whether it’s the right call. England are in the same position with uncertainty over an opening batsman that they were three years ago following the premature discarding of Michael Carberry.
For South Africa, and given the usual nature of the Old Trafford surface, they will be confident they have the bowling weapons to bowl England out cheaply twice. Morris was less effective (and more expensive) here than in Nottingham, but a fit and healthy Vernon Philander could make the difference. What they do with the batting order is perhaps of more interest. Quinton de Kock’s elevation to number four didn’t pay dividends here, and while anyone can have a quiet game, the doubts about the wisdom of over-working the wicketkeeper must continue. A number four will be fully padded up and preparing to go in at the fall of the first wicket, and De Kock would have been at that point after eight overs and five overs of the respective innings, having kept for over a hundred overs and eighty overs just previously. It’s asking an awful lot of his mental resilience no matter how physically fit he might be.
One thing does seem likely: with these two sides few would feel that a draw (unless rain affected) at Old Trafford is the obvious result. Both are flawed, both are prone to collapses and have brittle looking batting orders, and both have decent bowling attacks. It really is anyone’s guess what will happen, but it would be a pleasant change if at least it could be reasonably close.
Was the pitch really that bad? I would have thought the match was effectively “won” by toblerone’s 4 cheap wickets that effectively guaranteed us a 100+ run lead, not by posting 350 in the first innings, which on another day might have been considered to be par at best.
Nothing wrong with the pitch at all. Overhead conditions are what made batting difficult.
If you get the chance to see a repeat of the Verdict you should watch it. Its priceless. After about 15-20 minutes in Gower is trying to defend the SA opener Kuhn. At which point Bob Willis starts making weird faces at the camera. Strange rolling of his eyes. And looking at Gower with contempt.
Bob hasn’t got much time for Kuhn it appears.
Good performance from england. the team looks iworr with roland jones and westley. no major worries on the playing field in any format.
looks good. :-). penalty for typing with the left hand while eating with the right.
Eating. Yeah, sure.
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To be fair, they weren’t *that* good.
Why am I utterly indifferent to the fact that England won a Test match while playing quite well? Why? Tell me, ECB, why all your efforts on Facebook and via your still-quite-on-message media friends fail to stir me to much emotion when what used to be “my” team does well?
I know the answer, but those in charge will never understand.
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So am I (utterly indifferent).
In case anyone was wondering.
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I’m happy for Moeen, and pleased at some signs of Root taking charge.
1. The Flintoff/Key interview on the Sky website has an interesting moment. Key asks Fred why he always holds the pose after hitting the ball, and he says ‘For the crowd’. Now we know he was a publicity seeker, but he was also a genuine cricket star. I thought it was interesting – how much do current England players now play for the crowd, and how much for each other/the coaches/their stats/the bubble? I know they’re very good about autographs etc afterwards, but do they mentally ‘give us’ the match or in some ways keep it to themselves?
2. I had to give up on NowTV because it streams appallingly in my current house. So I listened to TMS. In spite of the expertise in the studio and the occasional attempt to include ‘unusual’ guests, it is stiflingly middle-class, middle-aged and middle-of-the-road. There’s an audience out there who love that – witness the gushing appreciations from various folk who’ve been listening for 40/50 years. But it is a very particular culture, and it dominates.
How Sky can be so staggeringly incompetent (generally, whatever you think of them, they aren’t incompetent) when it comes to their streaming is beyond me. Was trying to watch Game of Thrones on Sky Go last night – buffering, pixelation, you name it. Oh but the ads are in perfect quality of course.
Complain to them they tell you it’s your device or wifi, and the fact iPlayer, Netflix, Amazon etc all work perfectly doesn’t matter.
Though ‘Riviera’ is really funny with an 8-second sound lag. You can guess which cliche is coming up next.
Zeph. I think that’s the series which is partly filmed just round the corner from where I live. It means huge disruption when they close the street and all the parking spaces a couple of times a month. I’m really, really hoping that it doesn’t get recommissioned…
Rooto, it’s basically Dallas-sur-Mer so they have to use big recognisable locations. I know that part of the world a bit, and of course it was all go into a street in Nice and come out in Menton, but it does look good!. I think they’ll do one more season, depending on how well it does. Grit your teeth.
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Just heard a replay of the R5 cricket show from last night. Two potential ‘throw phone out of the window’ moments:
1 – #39 saying the churnover of openers is testament to Cook’s quality. Apparently his ability to forget about a couple of low scores and come back again without showing nerves proves his superiority to his many partners, and had nothing to do with being undroppable and captain. Analyst? Twat, more like.
2 – Shiny Toy dismissed Hales’ claims. #39 said Hales probably, deep down, doesn’t even want to play tests, with OD cricket his priority (even though he moved position for Notts in order to get more runs in FC). Shi T (abbrev.) agreed, claiming that this was probably the case, *even if Hales claims otherwise*. Instant, undisprovable horse manure. Absolute teeth-grinding bollocks.
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Still mystified how #39 failed (by a distance, apparently) to make our top/bottom three purveyors of teeth-grinding bollocks last year.
I’ve seen nothing more than ten-minute snippets of Test cricket this summer, and I’m all for making him my number one purely on the grounds of that Kia wicket celebration advert, never mind anything else.
I hope he got well paid for it, that’s all I can say.
Hughes talks more bollocks than all the rest put-together IMO. Some of his technical analysis pieces are just flat-out wrong.
Mind you, Dobell’s recent piece on Cook using indie batting coach Gary Palmer, though the underlying message about the general crappiness and jobs-for-the-boys mentality of the ECB coaching setup was sound, was also complete bollocks from a technique point of view.
There was an interesting discussion on Cricket Writers on TV about how the England team is selected. Spoiler alert – no one has any blood idea.
You’d have thought they’d keep dossiers or the like on potential candidates, no?
My understanding of it is this: The selection panel comprises of James Whitaker, Gus Fraser, Mick Newell and Trevor Bayliss. As chairman of selectors, Whitaker leads the meetings and presumably casts the deciding vote in a tie. Bayliss doesn’t see any county cricket because he’s too busy dealing with the national team. As directors of Middlesex and Nottinghamshire, Fraser and Newell probably only see English cricketers when they play for/against their county teams. Whitaker as chairman of selectors is the only full-time selector and presumably can watch any cricket he wants to.
I think the meetings are “overseen” by Andrew Strauss, who as Director Comma English Cricket is responsible for the hiring and/or firing of everyone else in the meeting. This would seem to be quite an imposing observer. On top of that, it seems likely that Andy Flower reports in person to the meeting as England’s Technical Director Of Elite Coaching, and probably a member of the ECB’s medical staff.
James “Gary Ballance” Whitaker chairman of selectors. Can anyone remember (and point me to the source of) the article about him being fast-tracked through the exams required to take on the role? I have vague memories of a very funny (if quite depressing) article…not sure if it was for the selector role precisely but def and ECB role?
Worth noting that when Downton sat in on the selection meetings those who weren’t cheerleaders expressed unease about it. Strauss does the same, and zero.
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I’ve been pondering the question of Jimmy.
Root has no problem pulling him off, turns to him last, and went wicketless in the second dig…
Is he being looked after?
Has his shoulder injury done for him?
Is he slowly being squeezed out?
Will he be left out of the Windies tests for one last hurrah in Australia?
I guess it depends how you look at it. I thought Root was quite ruthless in removing him when he didn’t do what he wanted (which is very good) but also at his age he’s going to need a little TLC with his workload. Previous Test he bowled plenty.
I don’t see any reason why he couldn’t go on for another few years fitness permitting. He’s a clever bowler not a pace bowler. 80mph is enough for him to get people out with movement. But equally he will probably not be the spearhead much longer. That’s fine, and as long as he understands that no problem.
Would I take him to Australia? I think not. Even in his pomp his record over there is fairly bland..but now?
Anderson will be given the opportunity to go at the time of his choosing. Dobell is intimating that the Ashes will be his swansong.
Did you see that Broad is rehearsing to be a Sky commentator. So he’s partially checked out as well.
One last hurrah for George Bailey?
BT Sport. Come on. Please. No Lovejoy. Spare us the world’s funniest ex-cricketer.