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.
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.