England came bouncing back after a massive defeat at Nottingham at the hands of South Africa in the four-match series, to take a 2-1 lead at the Oval. In a series where the equilibrium has shifted in a see-saw or hourglass pattern, whatever you wish to call it, England now look like they have one hand on the trophy.
Here we take a look at five takeaways from their win in London.
Dean Elgar’s grit should inspire the Proteas
“I prefer not getting hit, to be honest, but you have to take the blows. It puts me in a different mindset. It’s like the challenge is a little bit more. I guess only an opening batsman could see it that way.” Those were Dean Elgar’s words after his gutsy 136-run innings went in a dying cause, as South Africa crumbled to a 239-run defeat in the third Test against England at The Oval.
Elgar is resolute. He took bruises throughout the third Test. The one that was hurting the most was on his finger, and required him to apply a bandage. Jonny Bairstow hit one straight at him when Elgar came onto bowl, causing his finger to bleed. And that wasn’t it.
Elgar’s grit was what might help South Africa take some inspiration from the game, but that meant, the more time he spent in the middle, the more chin-music he had to face. A Ben Stokes delivery bounced enough to hit that same bruised finger.
He said post-match, he will not have an X-ray to know how bad the damage really is. Listen to his words. “That’s a waste of money. Let’s not go that way.” Alright, Dean, whatever you say.
Interestingly, it was Elgar who scored South Africa’s last hundred, back in March in Dunedin. Despite all the class in their batting order, it’s actually Elgar’s bring-it-on approach that helped them salvage some pride in London.
— ICC (@ICC) July 31, 2017
The amazing, Ben Stokes
Okay, time to write on Ben Stokes. What should I say? Whatever I pen down would be an understatement. Yet I’ll keep it short and simple.
Ben Stokes has arguably all the traits a captain could ask for in a Test all-rounder. Joe Root is blessed that way. He can get quick runs, win sessions for his team, is an excellent fielder, can chip-in and support the bowling attack by picking up wickets; what more do you expect of him.
In the third Test, he perhaps played the most matured knock of his Test career so far. Normally you would imagine Stokes whacking bowlers all-around and dictating play, but at The Oval he stood tall, stuck in, weighed as much gravity on singles and doubles as for boundaries.
“I felt I had to work pretty hard early on. The wicket was offering a bit, especially to Philander, can’t count how many times he beat the bat so it’s pleasing when you get through the tough times,” said Stokes. The only respite he got: Philander was 50 per cent fit, spent major time of the Test off-the-pitch.
Quite simply, on day one, Stokes realised the value of giving his wicket away but more importantly the value of not giving it away. When presented with the opportunity to send spinner Keshav Maharaj to the cleaners, he did that too.
112 and 31 with the bat, and three wickets with the ball, you can see why the comparisons with Andrew Flintoff are doing the rounds. It’s because England’s vice-captain can hardly put a foot wrong at the moment.
A debut to remember: Toby Roland-Jones
The highlight of the Oval Test: Toby Roland-Jones. He is not young. He is 29. He is not that fast. He bowls in the mid 80s. But oh boy did he shine on his debut.
Thanks to his long name, Toby will be called TRJ by lazy writers. Or Roland-Jones seems just fine. His strength lies in making the batsman play, and can follow a strict line and length, often pitching the ball on good length.
On his debut, he got 5 for 57 and 3 for 72 to really sort of point out the difference between the two sides. A player for Middlesex, Roland-Jones had waited for long before he did what he did. It was fairytale to say the least. And he did it with a grin on his face throughout. “This is the moment every young kid dreams of,” he said.
Out padding up, twice, Faf du Plessis, like really?
The phrase “Brain-fade” is now thrown around almost every time a batsman makes a judgemental error off a bowler, thanks to our beloved Steven Smith.
Nevermind, the South African captain went through a brain-fade not once but twice. Once when facing James Anderson, the other while facing Ben Stokes. It’s hard to absorb that a batsman of the calibre of Du Plessis would get out offering no shot twice in the same Test.
“The first rule of batting is to use your bat,” he said. You bet it is, Faf.
YESSS! Now @benstokes38 gets du Plessis lbw first ball!
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) July 30, 2017
Manchester, at all costs, for South Africa
Three Test matches have been played. All three games have been won by a margin of 200-plus runs and yet no team has won two games in a row. Astounding, isn’t it?
Both teams are definitely not at their best. They’re still trying to strike a balance with combinations.
And from series’ point of view, South Africa are approaching a must-win game. At Old Trafford in Manchester, the Proteas can’t afford any mistakes. They certainly can’t succumb to hat-tricks, like the one Moeen Ali got at the Oval.
Although, what might haunt them is that they have won only one Test out of nine, at Old Trafford. Not a happy hunting ground, eh?
They could still turn up and England could look like they’re not the team that beat them at the Oval. For if there’s one thing England must know, its that South Africa have a habit of picking up their broken pieces and fixing them up better than anybody in world cricket. They thrive when their back’s against the wall.