Riding his luck Keaton Jennings scraps to unbeaten 34 as England take command – but rain slows progress
Opener survives barrage from Morkel and Philander Hosts stretch lead to 252 runs after rain-affected day
They have been celebrating the past throughout the Oval’s 100th Test but, for Keaton Jennings, it has been more important to concentrate on the here and now as he scraps for his place.
A soggy Saturday afternoon in south London made it possible for only 34 overs to be bowled all day but, with England 252 runs ahead, and brighter weather forecast for the final two days, they are in a comfortable position to go 2-1 up in the four-match series.
Jennings resumes today on 34 and must make the most of this opportunity to produce his first score of the summer, otherwise he too could join the Surrey legends paraded at the Oval yesterday in the history books.
Jennings will feel more confident about making the trip to Old Trafford next week for the fourth Test having somehow survived with his wicket intact after Morne Morkel tested him to the limits. Two Chinese cuts, a dropped catch on six and a review to save his skin on 33 made for a charmed life and it was not pretty viewing as he scrambled for safety. But crucially he will be back for more today with England hunting runs for a third innings declaration by tea, giving them four sessions to bowl South Africa out.
Most of the England players travelled to the Oval by tube because of road closures due to the Ride London cycle event, a chance for international sportsmen to taste the real-life commute to the ground for supporters.
Tom Westley is used to rubbing shoulders with the man in the street having waited until the age of 28 to join the gilded group of England internationals. He was much more impressive than Jennings, stroking 28 and unfurling some crisp shots through the off side to prove he has two sides to his game. It has been a good debut so far for Westley. He has looked to be posibowler tive and provided the momentum Trevor Bayliss wants from his No3. He has coped with the occasion and looked composed in tough batting conditions.
England have been helped by the sickness of Vernon Philander. He spent Friday night in hospital on a drip due to a stomach virus. He was discharged to bat yesterday morning as South Africa avoided the follow on before being dismissed for 175, but was below par when England started their second innings, leaving Morkel to carry the attack.
Philander still had enough strength to trouble Jennings. He batted further out of his crease to try to disrupt Philander’s length and help him get forward, but it was still an uphill struggle. He inside-edged a four past his stumps in Philander’s second over and then next ball was reprieved when Dean Elgar dropped an edge at slip.
It was a tough game at the other end, too. Morkel was hunting down Alastair Cook, bowling round the wicket, landing the ball on a perfect length and hitting the seam to produce that fraction of deviation that can be fatal. He dismissed Cook for the 11th time in Tests, the most by any bowler, with a pearler that moved late and clipped the top of off stump. There was nothing Cook could have done. The won the battle hands down. Jennings tucked into Kagiso Rabada’s first over as the pressure lifted and moved to 32 when he put Morkel away for a four through midwicket, but he needed a review to keep his fight going. Rabada sneaked one through the defences and the umpire gave Jennings out caught behind, believing he had feathered an inside edge to the keeper. The ultra-edge gizmo flatlined and saved Jennings.
At the other end, Westley was having fun. In the first innings his technique was picked apart for the first time on television and his preference for the on side was pored over. He struck six boundaries, four of which were either through the covers or straight down the ground as South Africa concentrated on the channel outside off stump. Morkel apart, they did not have the consistency of line and length to challenge Westley.
Conditions were tough for batting and the odd variable bounce was evident. The weather will improve but batting is unlikely to get any easier because it has been seam movement, not swing, that has caused the problems with the pitch, providing Toby Roland-Jones with the perfect environment for making his debut.
He led the team off the field, shyly doffing his cap to the crowd, after taking the final South Africa first-innings wicket and his fifth. James Anderson also started his long Test career with five wickets and he believes Roland-Jones has the tools to be successful in Australia this winter. “He gets bounce, he can swing the ball and he can seam the ball,” he said.
“It is not often you see a debutant settle as quickly as he did. He looked very comfortable and confident. It helps he has had a good career with Middlesex. He knows his action and his game very well. He is a very intelligent cricketer and good to talk to about bowling and he thoroughly deserved his wickets.”
He started the morning bowling from the Vauxhall End, but could not repeat his Friday night heroics as Morkel and Temba Bavuma took South Africa past the follow-on mark.
Bavuma had fought hard on the second day, surviving while others fell around him. He brought up his fifty driving Stuart Broad for four and farmed the strike cleverly as Morkel hung in at the other end.
Anderson winkled out Morkel when he nicked to slip before Joe Root summoned back Roland-Jones, who took his chance to grab a five-for when he found Bavuma’s edge.
Tough test: Keaton Jennings survives a close call against Morne Morkel; Toby Roland-Jones (below) celebrates