In all the excitement of the evening ahead, I even arrived early! A very rare occurance for anyone who knows me socially. But I am so glad I did as I got to join in with the pitch inspection and chat to the England boys, I even managed to get an EXCLUSIVE interview with Lee Fortis The Head groundsman at the Oval; I got more out of him in 5 minutes, than others have in the all the years he's been there. Very informative too haha!
It was surprising to be able to turn up on Monday for the fifth day of the England /South Africa third Test Match. Based on the first two matches of the series, this should have been a day off. England had South Africa on the ropes by the third session of day 2 when it looked likely that they may have to follow on. They hung on but trailed England by 178 at the end of their third innings. When England extended their lead to 492 as they declared on the fourth day the game seemed all but over.
There were the prospects of Toby Roland-Jones providing a further devastating spell to match his debut five wickets in the first innings and Ben Stokes being on a roll after his first innings century with the bat. Surely, Anderson and Broad weren’t going to miss this party either. By the time de Kock, who came in inexplicably at four, and du Plessis were out in consecutive balls when the score was 52 the possibility of a quick close was in sight.
We didn’t reckon with the obduracy of Elgar, who was batting with a damaged hand, and Bavuma. Together they gave a real demonstration of test match batting as they held the innings together to survive on day four. Bavuma did not fall until the score had reached 160, almost South Africa’s entire first innings score. With Elgar batting in masterly control it still looked as though South Africa would continue for a long time, that is until Philander, who had been ill for most of the match, was out without adding to the score.
Both Bavuma and Philander had been out to Roland-Jones, who also dismissed Amla the previous day for only five. The match now had a different complexion. The crowd were willing Roland-Jones on to get the two wickets he needed to get a second innings’ five wickets and a debut 10 in the match. This fired him up but surprisingly the next wicket, Morris, was taken by Moeen after he had demonstrated more fight than expected to post 24 with the score at 205 and still 281 to go.
We should not have been surprised that it was Moeen as he and Root had spent a long time assessing the Pavilion end bowlers’ footmarks while Elgar was receiving treatment to his damaged left hand. Nevertheless, until he bowled Morris Moeen had not proved effective and surely it was only time before Roland-Jones and Stokes, who were fired up, took the last three wickets. Again, this proved not to be the case as Elgar continued serenely well beyond his century, being backed up by Maharaj, who defended his wicket more than competently.
The game still looked to be England’s but they were having to work hard for it. The lower order batsmen were the only chance as Elgar had no intention of leaving the crease and even then Maharaj seemed to be following his lead. That is, until Moeen removed Elgar for 136 by means of an athletic catch from Stokes, who had caught Moeen’s previous wicket. With the next ball the same duo dismissed Rabada, who may have been another thorn in England’s side as he had been in the first innings. Was the next ball going to be a repeat of Stokes’ catch off Vosges at Trent Bridge in 2015?
The next over started and it went quiet as the crowd wondered whether the match would grind on for a while. Still, it was 2.30 with another five hours for England to win even if it did take a while.
Moeen started the following over, again from the Vauxhall end, with great encouragement from the crowd for him to get the next wicket. He trapped Morkel LBW with a ball that straightened but the umpire pronounced it not out, which deflated the crowd. This was reviewed by England for a nail-bitingly long time, it seemed. Then the decision was reversed and Moeen had taken the last wicket, giving him 4 for 45.
England had won by 239 runs, a crushing victory.
Moeen looked bewildered and so he should. He had just taken a hat trick as he had taken two wickets at the end of his previous over and this one on the first ball of his next. He couldn’t have realised that he had taken the first ever Test hat trick at The Oval, was the first English spinner to take a Test hat trick since 1938 and was the first bowler to finish a Test Match with a hat trick since 1902, one hundred and fifteen years ago! How do you eclipse that to be Man of the Match? Well, Stokes did with his sparkling first innings century, three wickets and four catches, particularly the three scintillating ones off Moeen.
This fine display by England takes them to Old Trafford later in the week with a 2-1 lead and confidence. The team has done well to answer their Trent Bridge critics and did so with three debutants, two of whom showed great promise.