<
>

Roland-Jones' dream debut and Stokes' crafted ton seize control

play
Highlights - Stokes, Roland-Jones put England in command (4:26)

Ben Stokes struck a belligerent ton before Toby Roland-Jones scythed through South Africa on day two at The Oval (4:26)

South Africa 126 for 8 (Bavuma 34*, Morkel 2*, Roland-Jones 4-39) trail England 353 (Stokes 112, Cook 88) by 227 runs

Even before he bowled a ball in Test cricket, Toby Roland-Jones could be said to have made a name for himself. Double-barrelled international cricketers, after all, are a bit of a collector's item, just enough of them to raise an XI with a 12th man and manager in support.

By the time he finished his first spell, Roland-Jones was more than part of a statistical quirk; his name was about to permeate the cricketing world. Four for 22 was quite an introduction for his first eight overs in Test cricket, South Africa's top four all back in the dressing room, caught cold by a debut that, whatever the extent of his Test career, will go down in England's history.

As the weather deteriorated from the west, and the floodlights pierced the south London gloom, England followed up Ben Stokes' astute century - his fifth in Test cricket - by revelling in a perfect bowling day. South Africa crashed to 61 for 7 by the 26th over before stabilising at 126 for 8 by the close of the second day, still 227 behind.

Widely criticised for the manner of their defeat at Trent Bridge, England remain well placed to go 2-1 up in the series with one to play. South Africa need a further 28 runs to avoid the follow-on.

Supporters spending a day at the Test buy into a lottery. On Thursday, a capacity crowd at the start of The Oval's 100th Test observed Alastair Cook's orderly resistance as England reached a creditable 171 for 4. Friday's full house delighted in something more enticing: Stokes' enthralling hundred - raised during a rush of three successive sixes against the left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj while the last man, James Anderson, looked on from the non-striker's end - followed by the high drama of Roland-Jones' introduction to the Test scene.

South Africa were hampered by the loss of Vernon Philander, who left the field midway through the morning with his stomach ailment unrelenting and went to hospital for tests, which also rendered him unable to bat as wickets crashed in the final session. His involvement on the third day had not been confirmed at the close.

Strong, willing and decidedly able, Roland-Jones has a commodious run-up and, when he finally reaches his destination, hits the seam. He has long been regarded as a redoubtable bowler on the county scene, the man whose hat-trick against Yorkshire at Lord's last September gave Middlesex their first Championship for 23 years. At 29, he has now made his mark in more exalted circumstances south of the Thames, Dean Elgar, Heino Kuhn, Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock all accounted for, the first three in a burst of 3-3 in 15 balls.

Elgar fell to what became the last ball before tea, crouching forward to be caught at the wicket off a faint edge, a decision Elgar failed to overturn on review and which, by his expression, Roland-Jones did not entirely expect until he saw the spike on the big screen.

Amla might have fallen to the next ball - the first after tea - but England's review, in search of an lbw decision, narrowly failed. Considering that the last time Amla played at The Oval he batted for more than 13 hours it was perhaps a better gamble than most.

On this occasion, however, the balance heavily favoured the bowlers. Roland-Jones brought one back in his third over to have Kuhn lbw, struck on the back leg. Amla followed in his fourth - a ripper, this one, which took off and flicked his glove as he tried to drop his hands. The fact Amla walked somehow made it seem even grander. Finally, came de Kock who aimed to work a full delivery to the leg side and sent an outside edge to Stokes at gully.

Roland-Jones had replaced Anderson after only three overs - a sensible nerve-settler by his captain Joe Root - and Anderson's eventual switch of ends did the trick. He was in no mood to waste the opportunity. Du Plessis left one that seamed back and was lbw on the back leg and Chris Morris patted back a return catch.

Their recovery, of sorts, was some relief. No side has made less than 100 in the first innings of an Oval Test since 1957 when Surrey's spinners, Jim Laker and Tony Lock, tore through the West Indies.

Stokes' 112 from 153 balls was one of his most accomplished, an innings of contrasting shades as he defended with conviction and appreciated the opportunities to play more expansively.

Anderson's emergence at No. 11 with Stokes still nine short of his hundred persuaded him that it was time to crank things up. Maharaj's second ball should have caused his downfall at deep midwicket only for du Plessis to touch the boundary markers as he stretched to take the catch.

Undeterred, Stokes stretched to swing a ball well wide of off-stump down the ground and into the stands; du Plessis applauded ruefully. His century secured, for good measure Stokes slog-swept the next one for a third six in a row. The next over, from Morne Morkel, silenced him as he launched the bowler high to Kagiso Rabada, running in from long-off.

There was no 31st Test hundred for Cook - 82 overnight, he had only added six when Morkel won an lbw decision. Morkel's wicket confirmed his excellent record against Cook as he dismissed him for the 10th time in Test cricket. No bowler has dismissed him on as many occasions.

South Africa bowled impressively as long as Philander and Morkel had the ball in their hands, but their support seamers posed less threat. Morris found so much swing from the Dukes ball that he was unable to control it: he was one player, on this evidence, who did not benefit from South Africa's decision to rest between Nottingham and The Oval rather than request a further warm-up match.

Stokes' recognised an opportunity to press ahead. He had stood so far outside his crease against Philander, to negate his movement, that one half expected him to follow Philander into the dressing room and take guard.

Instead, he feasted upon Morris. Three overpitched deliveries in one over from disappeared to the boundary and Maharaj, conceded three more against Jonny Bairstow, one of them an advance to drive down the ground, a typically defiant repeat of the shot that caused his downfall at Trent Bridge.

England rattled up another 73 at nearly five an over, making excellent use of the hour leading up to the second new ball.

Unsurprisingly, South Africa took it immediately with England, at 256 for 5, threatening to break free. Rabada felt the benefit as he took the new ball for the first time in the series. Ten deliveries into the new ball and Bairstow was dislodged, pushing at one that bounced and moved away for du Plessis to take the catch at second slip.

Late-order allies slowly departed as Stokes edged towards his century. Moeen Ali fell to a keeper's catch via an inside-edge onto his pad, Morkel the deserving bowler. Roland-Jones' spirited 25 from 25 balls also provided a glimpse of his dangerous late-order hitting. Morris leaked 17 off an over to complete a miserable day.

Roland-Jones' best shot was a pulled six off Rabada. As he revelled in the near-absurdity of it all, he might have imagined that he would have no happier moment all day. Then England tossed him the ball and he realised that it was only the start.