Roland-Jones stakes claim for Ashes birth 

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Rarely will England test debuts go better than the one Toby Roland-Jones enjoyed at the Oval in the past week. Match figures of 8-129 including a five wicket haul in the first innings- the 8 wickets consisted of 6 out of South Africa’s top seven for good measure too! 

Indeed that was a good enough return in itself but the Middlesex paceman also contributed with 48 runs off the bat, making 25 and 23 including sixes in both innings becoming the first England  player on debut since Kevin Pietersen against Australia in the 2005 Ashes todo such a feat; in all it was a complete first test.

Of course with any debut it’s important to not get too carried away a sentiment that Joe Root duly acknowledged: “It’d be hard for him to top that,” he said. “The most important thing for him is to approach the next game in a similar manner, and that he doesn’t expect a performance like this.”. 

Whether things go as well or not at Old Trafford remains to be seen but it is also worth noting that Roland-Jones is 29, he knows his game inside out and sticks to it well so it’s hard to see him being too up and down with his performance level.

It is that consistency which makes him a real handful as a bowler, he bowls a superb fourth stump line always challenging the batsman judgement outside off stump, he gets bounce and has to knack of extracting any movement available from even the most unresponsive of surfaces. His average of 25 runs per wicket on his home ground at Lords is testament to that. 

The critics would argue that he lacks genuine pace and four of his five wickets were taken in dream bowling conditions, under heavy leaden skies with the ball doing plenty off the pitch in the first innings. 

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However in this match alone he showed that he can chip in when the odds aren’t so heavily stacked in his favour, his last two wickets were taken on the fifth morning with conditions primed for batting; the sun was shining and the pitch was looking flat. 

But as soon as Roland-Jones go into his spell he got two wickets in two balls with straight balls targeted at the stumps that wrapped to pads of both Bavuma and Philander who went lbw. 

He even showed he has some pace too, notching up to 88mph in the second innings- he isn’t as quick as Mark Wood the man he replaced at the Oval. Wood operates around 86-90mph compared to Roland-Jones’ 82-86 average but he does possess far more ability than the Durham man as well as being a more useful batter too. 

It was a dream debut and will not doubt surely lead to his inclusion for the Ashes tour this winter and such was his performance it isn’t too far fetched to say he has really staked his claim to start the series at Brisbane. 

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Root takes England into brave new world meekly

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When Joe Root was appointed the new England captain in January, Tom Harrison the chief executive of the ECB called for style over substance a fair few eyebrows were raised. 

And even Root himself may have been surprised said that for him “winning was most important”- whilst that comment about style being important by Harrison was perhaps a little brash but nonetheless Root had suggested he would instigate a new style anyway: “I’d be very instinctive and not be afraid to go with my gut at times” adding that he would only be “slightly defensive” when he was first interviewed after taking the job on from Alastair Cook. 

It all seemed very promising, Root would take England on and instigate a fresh approach, perhaps a more positive one. However it isn’t what England actually needed. More steel was required to strengthen the batting as was a need for more adaptability when the surface isn’t to the team’s liking. 

Which is exactly what happened in the 2nd Test. The pitch needed a patient approach and England were found wanting. Highlighted by the utter capitulation where England’s two innings lasted just 96.1 overs (one less ball than South Africa first innings) and their combined score produced just 338 runs- the worst total since the 2005 defeat to Australia at Lords. 

The batting was frail and flawed in method but it ultimately stemmed from the moment that Root and the selectors selected his first test squad. It wasn’t the exciting squad that many expected or indeed hoped, in fact it was a real let down and was a stale, boring selection. 

The re-introduction of Gary Ballance which Root insisted on was hopeful at best, he had scored heavily in the Championship for Yorkshire but clearly against the better bowling of Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel the same technical shortcomings that had apparently been fixed still remain from his first two cracks at Test cricket. 

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Whilst that selection was hopeful, the selection of Liam Dawson is quite hard to fathom, he hasn’t looked like a good fit in either test so far. He is a bits and pieces all-rounder and those don’t last very long in Test cricket. 

From all the talk following his selection, it seemed as though he had been picked as the first choice spinner to take the pressure off of Moeen Ali as the spinner, so the off-spinner can focus on being a batsman at no. 7 who bowls a bit. 

But that as a reason for his selection is weak, Dawson is in the team to bat at no. 8 and offer a few late order runs and provide a solid option with the ball, much like the role Ashley Giles performed for England. 

But Dawson hasn’t really done either, it is not to say that he is a bad cricketer. He performs a good role for Hampshire, however he isn’t Test class and shouldn’t have been picked for either Test. He will be a likely fall guy from the Trent Bridge debacle as the balance of the side is addressed. 

But what his selection has shown was that Root was trying to play things safe and not take a risk with any new debutants like Mason Crane or Mark Stoneman and ultimately it has come to cost him in the end. 

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The win at Lords did mask over a few cracks in the side in the mean time, the failing top 3 barring Cook, and the over reliance on Root was apparent and the defeat at Trent Bridge has just merely made what was quite clear, blindly obvious now. 

The lack of risk with selection initially didn’t suggest a brave new era, it had nodded towards a meek start which has played out. The mistakes in selection is likely to be rectified heading to the Oval where it looks likely England will select Stoneman to replace Dawson. With Keaton Jennings slipping down to no. 3. 

Ballance in a no. 5 could work out too, but nonetheless Root will be hoping the second big selections of his campaign will prove more inspiring than his first attempt.