Yahoo Cricket Live – Those lucky enough to be at the Oval will never forget this historic day. The excitement of the morning was followed by three sessions of dramatic cricket, setting up the exciting prospect of the final day of England’s chase against the clock.
17 wickets fell in 70 overs before bad light started the game short, with England bowling out South Africa for 118 to take a 36-run lead at 154 for 7.
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Ollie Pope threw everything to play for the team with 67 off 77 balls, perhaps overcome with emotion, trying to force a result by playing a shot a ball over three days.
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With Ollie Robinson (five for 59) and Stuart Broad (four for 41) delivering a rousing first God Save the King performance in their Games since 1952, England held firm until a good South African attack led by Marco returned . Jansen took four wickets for 34 runs.
The scariest performance of the day did not come from a cricketer but from soprano Laura Wright whose national anthem showed batsmen how to stay calm under pressure. Learned a little from him. 86 per cent of all Test matches were played during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, but you have to go back even further – 90 years – for more wickets than this for one day of Test cricket at the Oval.
It is easier for the bowlers to clear their minds than the batsmen after such an emotional and frustrating start to the day, especially with the perfect bowling conditions to exploit – low clouds and a seaming pitch.
South Africa could not decide. England was relentless, bowling and constantly making things happen. With South Africa 36 for 6 in 11.5 overs, Jansen, the number 8 at the first drinks break, began sipping a bottle, wondering how he got out so quickly.
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Stokes’ decision to bat first on Thursday, moments before the game and the country changed, has now paid dividends. The solemnity of the start of the game was well matched by the clouds but it was a glimmer of hope for England’s bowlers.
England’s batsmen have been the garland of attacking intent this summer but the bowlers have also played their part, gambling for wickets and being rewarded. None of the batsmen in the top four have scored a century against England, with Nos 1 to 4 having just 5 half-centuries and a high score of 76 in seven Tests.
Perhaps one of Stokes’ most important achievements is that he inspired Robinson to break out of his inertia and become a “gym bunny”.
He bowled eight from the end of the pavilion bowling quality seams, his level never dropped for a second, opening the ball to full length on both sides of the pitch for 21 for four, plucking Dean Elgar’s stump. First on they set the tone. The mantle of Anderson’s new ball partner has now passed from Broad to Robinson.
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There was no shortage of technical tests as Broad and Anderson rounded out the Vauxhall End. Anderson dismissed Sarel Ervy in his second over, Robinson side Keegan Pietersen, Broad caught Ryan Rickelton behind, and Kyle Varian side Robinson for a two-ball duck.
Vian Mulder was a late call-up to the squad, swapping Championship cricket at Grace Road to face England’s attack. It didn’t last. He was caught playing a great shot on Robinson’s wide ball.
Khaya Zondo, in place of the injured Rassie van der Dusen, and Jensen survived lunch and played a few shots, Jack Leach hit a six and a four in his first over – Stokes saved himself for the second innings.
After lunch, it was back to Robinson who returned to South Africa after a 90 minute break. A thick edge from Zondo floats Alex Lees down gully for a simple catch. Janssen was dismissed twice in the 21st but it didn’t matter much. Janssen was trapped for 30, driven away from his body and caught at slip.
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Broad finished it with two wickets – taking him to 563 in his career and level with his bowling hero Glenn McGrath. He became England’s highest wicket taker in the summer with 27 wickets.
South Africa’s biggest mistake of the summer was to drop Jansen for the second Test and go with the default strategy of two spinners. Janssen was outstanding at Lord’s where the four seamers dismissed England twice in less than a day.
Here in the recovery of the team, the attack of South Africa was very strong and powerful. It was not going to be easy. Lees again tried to play aggressively. It rarely works when a batsman tries to reinvent himself early in his career.
From Yorkshire blocker to England’s Matthew Hayden, it’s impossible against the new ball in England. He needs to be Alex Lees and trust his own game. He found balance in the last two Tests against New Zealand but was bowled by a straight ball from Jensen for 13 runs.
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Zak Crawley was hurt. He was beaten several times and looked helpless throughout. He was lbw on a full ball that swung at his pads.
Joe Root played a hard drive to Jensen, and he was caught at slip, continuing his poor streak against pace. Harry Brooke was caught at long leg in his first Test innings, falling after a rain break.
Stokes was dismissed at mid-off by Elgar who misjudged the skier, but let Noortje slip in the same, his entry poor after an impressive display at Old Trafford.
Pope used his legs to get ahead of the bowlers, showing intent and understanding of the situation on home soil. There were some knocks but also luck – a corner of the slip put England in the lead, another over brought the keeper to his fifty.
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It did not last for a great innings, they were caught behind just before the close, but this test feels like a set-up for England to decide.
Alex Lees went on a flyer before being castled by Marco Jensen
It was great – spectacular as entertainment – and the England batsmen had to hurry because it was only a three-day game. But there was an excess of audacity, which allowed South Africa to claw their way back into the game as they bundled out for 118 runs.
Ollie Pope and Joe Root played a shot in most balls they faced. Alex Lees, Ben Stokes and Stuart Broad played a shot on every ball they faced. The longest period of self-restraint seems to come from Harry Brook, who was so cautious in his first Test that he didn’t sort out four full balls before nailing his fifth and seventh cover boundaries.
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He was surprised to see the back. In the last Test at Old Trafford, England achieved great balance in their batting, most notably the partnership between Ben Stokes and Ben Foakes. But here were the visors down, raise your launcher and charge from one ball.
The mood of the day must have had something to do with it. It was a historic moment when the Oval crowd sang God Save the King for the first time in 70 years. Bowlers tend to clear themselves faster than batsmen on emotional occasions. And bowlers can get away with more than one mistake. But it was more of the same for both sides, and it must be said that the England ship as a whole was somewhat guilty of naive optimism.
No international team has ever beaten in such an aggressive manner in a Test in Pakistan. It can work there: Kookaburra balls with little lateral movement, pitches made of concrete to bat on, and almost half the Tests in Pakistan (76 out of 159) ended in draws. England have won only two of the 24 tests in Pakistan, losing four, so will need something original to break the deadlock.
But trying to bat in fifth gear like Pope and Root or sixth gear like Lees and Stokes won’t work against Australia next summer – if the pitches are made, as they should be, as they should be. Support the England triumvirate of James Anderson, Ollie Robinson and Stuart Broad. Sometimes sixth gear, yes, for example, after Stokes played himself, which he did not do here, but not gung-ho from ball one against a world-class attack.
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The secret lies in the soil, as gardening shows say, or nearly so. Stokes running up the pitch in the ball field and disrupting the length of the bowler is acceptable.
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