Eng­land chan­nel Jekyll rather than Hyde to take con­trol

Root’s team should head to Old Traf­ford for the fi­nal Test with a 2-1 ad­van­tage South Africa al­ready four wick­ets down chas­ing huge tar­get of 492 for vic­tory

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Sport - VIC MARKS at the Oval

This Eng­land side has kept us guess­ing this sum­mer. But for four days at The Oval they have been Jekylls rather than Hy­des, de­liv­er­ing an honourable, highly pro­fes­sional per­for­mance through­out. By the close of play South Africa, who had been set a pre­pos­ter­ously large tar­get of 492 for vic­tory, were ail­ing at 117 for four.

The fore­cast for to­day is fair, so, bar­ring a mirac­u­lous South Africa fight­back, Joe Root and his team should be able to head to Old Traf­ford for the fi­nal Test of the se­ries with a 2-1 lead.

The Eng­land seam­ers al­lowed their op­po­nents no respite so that the fourth in­nings of the match fol­lowed the pat­tern of the first two Tests. The bats­men were in tor­ment against bowlers ea­gerly hunt­ing down their prey.

Every mem­ber of Eng­land’s pace quar­tet was on tar­get and a threat. Stu­art Broad made the first in­cur­sion; Toby Roland-Jones con­sol­i­dated that with the dis­missal of Hashim Amla for the sec­ond time in the match, and then the ir­re­press­ible Ben Stokes found him­self on a hat-trick. Jimmy An­der­son looked good, though there were no birth­day presents for him.

There was the odd blem­ish in the field. Early on Keaton Jen­nings dropped a hard chance from the bat of Dean El­gar at third slip – and El­gar is prov­ing one of the more ad­he­sive bats­men in this se­ries. He re­mained un­beaten on 72 at stumps.

But in­roads were soon made else­where. Broad sent Heino Kuhn’s off-stump cartwheel­ing. Then Roland-Jones in­duced a false stroke from Amla, who left it too late to with­draw his bat, which un­wit­tingly guided a low catch to Root at sec­ond slip.

Roland-Jones im­pressed again in a seven-over spell. In this match he may have demon­strated one of the virtues of play­ing so much cricket at Lord’s for Mid­dle­sex. There the pitches ha­bit­u­ally of­fer min­i­mal as­sis­tance to bowlers, which is of­ten the case in Test match cricket. Hence they have to work hard for their wick­ets there rather than wait a few min­utes be­fore the ball hits a great tuft of grass be­fore chang­ing di­rec­tion.

Roland-Jones has spent half a decade learn­ing his trade in such tax­ing con­di­tions; hence he shows no sign of be­ing in­tim­i­dated or be­wil­dered by a rel­a­tively flat, slow track.

Shiver me tim­bers

As ever it was Stokes who had the crowd roar­ing the loud­est. First he pro­pelled the per­fect yorker to Quin­ton de Kock, who is sud­denly look­ing ex­posed so high in the or­der; the stumps were shat­tered.

Next ball the tim­bers of Faf du Plessis would also have been dis­turbed if the South African cap­tain had not put his pads in the way. For the sec­ond time in the match Du Plessis padded up to a straight ball; once again his re­view was fu­tile.

In the last hour El­gar bat­tled away de­fi­antly with the odd ma- jes­tic stroke in be­tween some typ­i­cally dogged de­fence, and Temba Bavuma dug in dili­gently once again. But bat­ting was never easy against a pur­pose­ful Eng­land at­tack and there re­mained the im­pres­sion that they were merely de­lay­ing the in­evitable.

There are still 98 overs avail­able to­day.

Bat­ting was not such a de­mand­ing oc­cu­pa­tion ear­lier in the day. With Eng­land start­ing it with a lead of 252 it was hardly sur­pris­ing that the third in­nings of the match was one of those rel­a­tively stress-free af­fairs where the main topic of de­bate was when Root would de­clare. But it was not de­void of in- ter­est be­cause of the per­son­nel in­volved.

Jen­nings added an­other 14 runs to his overnight score be­fore he was caught in the gully from the splice of the bat, hav­ing been sur­prised by a lifter from Kag­iso Rabada. So he fin­ished with 48, his high­est Test score of the sum­mer by quite a mar­gin. Whether t hat is enough to keep him in the team re­mains to be seen.

Best time to change

There will be those who, if Eng­land win the match, spout the mantra “never change a win­ning team”. In fact, the best time to change the team is af­ter a vic­tory. Then the move is trig­gered by the sim­ple de­sire to im­prove the side rather than the des­per­a­tion to keep the crit­ics at bay.

Eng­land win­ning at The Oval should not de­cide whether Jen­nings is re­tained for the Old Traf­ford Test. How­ever, the sus­pi­cion re­mains that this is a mi­nor­ity view.

Tom West­ley’s po­si­tion is cur­rently more se­cure. He reg­is­tered a half-cen­tury, the first by an Eng­land num­ber three mak­ing his de­but since Owais Shah in Mum­bai in 2006. West­ley was nowhere near as flu­ent as on Sat­ur­day night. Per­haps he recog­nised the scope of the op­por­tu­nity in front of him; per­haps the South Africans bowled bet­ter at him.

Gen­er­ally they kept the ball away from his legs so his progress was much slower than that of Root, who likes to score on both sides of the wicket.

Even so, 84 runs in a de­but Test bat­ting at three against an at­tack of this qual­ity is a fine achieve­ment. West­ley, like Roland-Jones, ap­pears to have a calm tem­per­a­ment and a method. It may not be a per­fect method but it ap­pears to work pretty well for him.

The other new­comer, Dawid Malan, was com­mit­ted to the task of ac­cel­er­at­ing the in­nings but was soon LBW on re­view to Chris Mor­ris. The oth­ers bat­ted ac­cord­ing to type: Root purred un­til hol­ing out against Ke­shav Ma­haraj; Stokes ended up slog­ging self­lessly, Moeen Ali did not recog­nise the dan­ger of Bavuma in the out­field and was run out.

Mean­while Jonny Bairstow cruised along at a run-a-ball while Roland-Jones – where has he been all this time? – made an un­beaten 23 like an old pro.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: SHAUN BOTTERILL/GETTY IM­AGES

A gen­eral view of play dur­ing day four of the third Test be­tween Eng­land and South Africa at The Oval yes­ter­day.

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