Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Oval's 100th Test

So the Kennington Oval is staging its one hundredth test and I can certainly remember so classics here over the years.  Starting with Richards and Holding in 1976, the beginning of fifteen years of dominance by the best test team I have seen.  The Ashes have been secured at this ground in 1985, 2005 and 2009 which is always sweet.  Tufnell spun us to a consolation Ashes win in 1997, Devon Malcolm demolished the saffers in '93 but Murali announced himself in '98.  Personal experience of the ground isn't too good though.  Two days in the cheap seats, baking in the heat while opposition batsmen made massive scores;  Smith, Amla and Kallis then Watson (believe it or not!) and another Smith.

So back to the present and for me England picked a strange team.  With so many batsman why not play two spinners?  Who is Dawid Malan?  Tom Westley is a fair enough choice given his form and Toby Roland Jones has a good first class record and I can ignore any prejudice his name may incur.

England won the toss when they might have wanted to lose it and chose to bat.  Considering the conditions and an opposition attack that suddenly looks world class they done well to close at 171/4 on a rain interrupted day.  Cook top scored and held it all together, who else?  Jennings has one innings to save his place in the team.  Westley done OK, Malan came and went, nothing much has been learned on day one.

Day two started with nerves, especially after Cook went early but Ben Stokes made a brilliant century in tough conditions and with contributions from the lower order England posted 353.  How good would this prove? With South Africa 126/8 at the end of play it seemed very good indeed!  Toby Double-Barrell took the first four wickets and Jimmy a couple as the saffers crumbled.  A day which started with the match even finished with England dominant.

Day three was disappointing due to the weather.  England finished off SA for 175 giving them a healthy lead which had extended to 252 by the time the rain came.  Cook got a great ball from Morkel, for once Jennings had some luck, lots of luck and was unbeaten, as was Westley who continued to impress on debut.

Day four was fun, loads of runs and loads of wickets.  Jennings made a very flukey 48 and Westley looked class in making his first test fifty.  Root scored a quick half century and Bairstow a typical attacking top score of 63.  There were contributions all the way and the Saffers were set 491.  By close England had taken four wickets but Elgar and Bavuma had got stuck in.

The match was over before tea on the fifth day with South Africa falling 239 runs short.  Moeen Ali finished the match with a hat trick, Stokes and TRJ picked up a couple each too.  England had played excellent cricket and were deserved big winners.  Stokes with runs, wickets and catches was the obvious man of the match.

So in a couple of days time the fourth and final test begins and England's squad is the same with the exception of Finn replacing the injured Wood, he will surely only play if there is an injury.  Jennings is very lucky to retain his place, his runs in the second innings were unconvincing and he looked likely to get out at any time.  A word for Moeen Ali who has been playing test cricket for just over three years now and has improved continuously to become an outstanding all rounder.  I've doubted his bowling in the past but his record speaks for itself.  At the moment he, England's no.1 spinner is leading wicket taker in a series that features genuinely great pace bowlers on both sides.  I hope I haven't cursed him!

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