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.