By Michael Stafford-Jones

  • England hammer South Africa by 239 runs in the 3rd Test to lead series 2-1
  • Impressive displays from Ben Stokes, Toby Roland-Jones and Alastair Cook set up victory
  • Here are five key takeaways from the 100th Test at The Oval
KENNINGTON, ENGLAND – After England thrashed South Africa by 239 runs in the 3rd Test to go 2-1 up in the series with one to play, here are five things we learnt from the match.

 

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Stokes Thrives on Responsibility

Ahead of the Oval test, England all-rounder Ben Stokes told the Daily Mail: “Aggression doesn’t always mean scoring at a strike-rate of 80 or anything like that. It’s about how you do things. It’s about being aggressive even in leaving the ball, a decisive defensive shot. You have to be committed to all the movements in the shot you decide to play. Not take a negative approach but a more sensible one.”

It is one thing to make a statement like that, and quite another to put it into practice at the next opportunity. However, that is exactly what Stokes did during his brilliant knock of 112 in the first innings.

He was decisive and resolute initially to reach 21 from 44 balls at the close of day one, then picked the right time to up the tempo alongside Johnny Bairstow on day two, before smashing three consecutive sixes to go to his hundred when James Anderson was at the other end.

This was an exemplary Test innings – executed to perfection from first ball to last – and it showed just how mature a player Stokes has become. Its importance to England cannot be underestimated, as he led by example, showed his teammates how to bat in testing circumstances and set them on the path to victory.

He capped his man-of-the-match display with a fiery spell to dismiss Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis in successive deliveries on day four and three slips catches off Moeen Ali on day five.

 

Roland-Jones is International Standard

If Toby Roland-Jones had a dream the night before his opening spell in Test cricket, it probably included dismissing all of South Africa’s top 4, Dean Elgar, Heino Kuhn, Hashim Amla and de Kock, to leave the visitors reeling on 47-4. Extraordinarily, this ideal start to Test cricket actually happened for the Middlesex seamer, and his heroics effectively put the game beyond South Africa by the end of day two.

Roland-Jones looked comfortable instantly on one of the biggest stages in cricket as he quickly found an excellent line and length and put the South African batsmen in all sorts of trouble, and the four wickets were just reward for his early efforts. He completed his five-for by removing Temba Bavuma on day three, then took three wickets in the second innings (including Amla again) to continue his superb first match in Test cricket.

Bigger challenges await for Roland-Jones if he plays in this winter’s Ashes, particularly as the hard, bouncy wickets in Australia will not suit him as much. However, he seems to have the temperament and the appetite for Test cricket, and that is half the battle. It also helps his cause that he can bat, as two useful twenties in this match demonstrated.

 

Cook remains vital for England

After Joe Root bravely decided England would bat first under overcast skies in South London, he needed at least one batsman to make a significant score. And, as he has done so many times before, Alastair Cook stepped up and played a near-perfect Test opener’s innings to establish the perfect platform for Stokes to capitalise on. He started strongly and did not panic as wickets fell at the other end, and patiently accumulated 88 in 200 balls before eventually falling to Morne Morkel on the second morning.

The former England showed excellent judgment in leaving balls outside the off-stump, which forced the South Africans to bowl to his strengths on occasion. Then when they dropped it short or tossed it wide, he cut or pulled the ball to the boundary. It was an innings that displayed a total mastery of the craft of Test match batting which the Essex opener has honed over an 11-year international career.

 

Westley might be the answer at No. 3

After England were justifiably criticised for their reckless batting during their embarrassing 340-run defeat at Trent Bridge, they needed to find a No. 3 with a sound technique and an excellent temperament to replace the injured and incapable Gary Ballance.

They selected Tom Westley, and he showed everyone what he can do with an encouraging 25 in the first innings, and then an old-fashioned Test knock of 59 in 141 balls in the second innings. He defended well on both occasions, hardly played any reckless shots and exuded calmness throughout his patient accumulation of runs.

As with Roland-Jones, the Ashes may prove to be a sterner challenge for Westley, particularly against the extreme pace of Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins, but this was an ideal way for the Essex man to start his Test career, and if he continues in this vein he could solve England’s problem No. 3 position.

 

Picking ill Philander was unwise

South Africa knew Vernon Philander was struggling before the Third Test began, but picked him anyway because he is crucial to their bowling attack. It was arguably a poor decision, as he bowled fewer overs than expected in the first innings, went to hospital at the end of the second day and then was below-par in the second innings.

Du Plessis told BBC Sport: “Vern’s such a good player you’d almost take him at 50%. The plan was to win the toss, bat and give him a day to get better, so not to have him for two days was a big loss.”

He continued, “It’s obvious to say someone like Philander missing out on the first innings (of 353) was costly. They got 100 runs too many.”

South Africa’s desire to pick someone as important as Philander was understandable, but it does not matter how good a player is if he is unable to play his best due to illness (or other reasons like injury or mental state). They should have given Duanne Olivier or Andile Phehlukwayo a chance instead.

The Fourth Test starts on 4 August.

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