Rock ‘n’ Roland-Jones

English cricket has a new hero. He doesn’t have cool hair, he doesn’t have designer stubble, and he’s more Angus Fraser than Brendan Fraser, but who cares when you take 4-20 in 7 overs in your first spell in test cricket? Apparently playing for England is a piece of piss after all.

Toby Roland-Jones might be what Australians snidely refer to as a traditional English pie chucker – his average speed of 82mph won’t exactly terrify anyone – but he did exactly what was required on Friday afternoon. And he did it better than any other bowler in the match so far. TRJ, we salute you!

With overcast skies, the floodlights switched on, and a pitch offering more than a little assistance, TRJ put the ball in exactly the right place with impressive regularity. The South Africans simply couldn’t cope. They looked like England on a typical Indian bunsen: completely clueless.

Watching Roland Jones today made me feel good about cricket and good about life in general. It took me back to the 1980s and early 1990s when England would pick a horse for a course – usually someone like Neil Mallender at Headingley – and then watch smugly as they exploited conditions immaculately.

The opposition, of course, can’t quite believe it. Some of them might even feel embarrassed that a traditional English medium-fast seamer has tied them in knots and won England the game.

It matters not that said bowler might look about as threatening as a kiwi fruit in the next game (in very different conditions). Cricket is all about the present. And the present battle has been lost. And the architect of their downfall was an archetypal English seamer … the kind that modern cricket, with all its nauseating brand of bravado, was supposed to leave behind.

Nobody will dare call TRJ a trundler today. He was bloody fantastic and occasionally hit 85mph. He came into the attack when Jimmy Anderson bowled an uncharacteristically loose opening burst, and started pulling up trees immediately. In fact, he just about pulled up every tree south of the Thames.

TBR showed sensational control and looked completely nerveless on debut – perhaps buoyed by his impressive cameo with the bat, in which he showed a defensive technique a thousand times more convincing than either Keaton Jennings or Gary Ballance.

I have to admit I wasn’t a fan of TRJ’s call up – mainly because I don’t think he’ll be successful outside England – but that’s a debate for another day. If he wins England this match, which seems incredibly likely from here, I’ll happily embrace him as one of my own.

Although I’m not convinced that he’s one for the winter – his first class record shows that he not quite Vernon Philander – a best case scenario is that he turns out to be the new Tim Bresnan. In which case he might well have an important role to play at Melbourne. One thing’s for sure. Somewhere out there, Mark Wood must be cursing his luck.

England will now surely win this test match – that’s if the weather behaves itself. I thought England’s 353 was very competitive at the time, but now it looks unassailable.

South Africa only have themselves to blame though. Although their bowlers weren’t terrible yesterday, I didn’t think they were at their best in the crucial morning session. They bowled a little too short and didn’t make England play enough. Tom Westley, who I thought looked pretty good before lunch, got far too many sighters, and Alastair Cook was far too astute to get drawn into silly shots outside off stump.

Cook looked unflustered as ever in difficult conditions, and didn’t let the balls that flew past his outside edge bother him. Although he benefitted hugely from Philander’s absence, he probably deserved a hundred this morning. Shame it wasn’t meant to be.

The real star with the bat, of course, was Ben Stokes. I thought it was possibly his best innings for England given the quality of the opposition, conditions and the match circumstances.

Quite a few players with strong muscles and a brilliant eye can whack the bowlers around Newlands on a belter. Keeping Morkel and Rabada at bay under overcast skies, and then accelerating when potential partners were running out, is something only very gifted players with a sound temperament can do. Perhaps this innings will prove a seminal moment in his development.

I’ll be back at some point over the weekend to discuss what happens next … until then have a beer, crack open a bottle of something fancy, and toast Sir Tobias Skelton Roland-Jones. It’s rather nice when England are winning on a Friday evening.

James Morgan


  • Bravo Roland-Jones. One must question the selection of Philander by SA, though, with health doubts well before the final call, I think.

  • Is he TRJ or TBR?

    Proper test match innings from Stokes. Always thought he has a fairly solid technique but shot selection would let him down. Hardly played a false shot. Was watchful when required and loved the way he tore into Morris just before the new ball.

    Still think Jonny should bat at 5. Is Milan going to score more runs than him long term?

  • Great day for England. Stokes played superbly. TRJ bowled beautifully in helpful conditions. Like you (I think) I reckon Mark Wood looks a better bet in Brisbane but that’s another day. England have had a bit of luck in the game (best of the conditions and Philander being ill) but they have made the best of the luck.

    • Also agreed – and how nice to be able to have a debate about bowlers when both options look more than respectable.
      It would be even better if we could be saying the same about England’s number three. Sort that, welcome back a Hameed returned to form, and we would be well set for the next five years at least.

  • Hopefully we can build on this, as we’ve had the rub of the green all series:
    The first test we had all the luck going with the bat and no Du Plessis.
    The second South Africa lost Rabada to a dubious penalty decision.
    The third their stand out bowler is restricted to less than 20 overs with the possibility of not featuring again in the match.
    When you get this kind of good fortune you have to capitalise.
    Neither side looks confident batting when the ball is moving about.
    If this sounds ungracious it’s not intended. It’s always good to see us doing well, whatever the sport and we have batted, bowled and fielded well this game.
    I get the distinct impression South Africa are mentally on the plane home.
    Long tours like this must be a nightmare when things are going badly. You can’t get away from it, with family and friends thousands of miles away.

  • Absolutely stunning spell from TRJ! loved his rhythm and energy… but don’t underestimate the likes of amla,de cock n du plessis, with so much time left in the test, if the conditions get better for batting they can still come back from a follow on position to draw the match with a mammoth score in the second innings

  • You say, somewhere out there today. Mark Wood must be cursing his luck. Do you think he’d have got 4 wickets today ? Because I certainly don’t.

    A word on the batsmen, I thought 350 was a great effort. Cook showed just what we need over the next 2-3 years from him, and I don’t think the conversion rate watchers can grumble with that gritty 80 odd (plus he wasn’t out)
    I hope Stokes came of age in this test, that was the best possible response to Trent Bridge showing maturity and class.

    One thing that annoyed me yesterday, where’s hotspot? That surely would have saved Mo.

    • I totally agree re: hotspot. I thought Moeen was not out and the ‘spike’ on snicko could easily have been his bat brushing his pad. What annoyed me is that the 3rd umpire didn’t seem to even consider this possibility.

      I also agree that Roland Jones was a better fit than Wood for this pitch. I meant Wood would be cursing his luck because conditions weren’t necessarily in his favour at either TB or Lord’s. It must be annoying when your chief rival for a place in the side turns up and gets to bowl in ideal conditions.

  • I get your point now. Although I’m not sure what Woods ideal conditions are nor how he will ever manage to take 4 wickets in 7 overs. He’s just not that good


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