Summer 2017

The Oval 2017: by Five0 and Wycombe


Ah, how nice to be back at the Oval! It was the scene of my first Test in 1963, England v the West Indies. In those days kids could sit on the boundary rope and I remember sitting somewhere near third man looking up in awe at the hooked nose of my Surrey hero, Ken Barrington.

This is my ninth Test at the Oval and my third against South Africa. I was here in 2003 for Graham Thorpe’s come back when he made 124 in a massive 604-9 declared when Tres was majestic scoring 219 and Freddie hit a blistering 95 off 104 balls with four sixes. South Africa were demoralised and Tres was 69 not out to win an unlikely game on Day 5 to draw the series. Great game! I was here too for the game in the last series when Amla hit 311, Kallis 182 and Smith 131 and we lost by an innings in game where we only took two wickets. Not such a good one.

What would today bring for the third Test with the series one:one after our miserable collapses at Trent Bridge. South Africa are a settled team, indeed strengthened by the return of Rabada following his one match ban for unwisely getting caught on the stump mic at Lords telling Stokes to ‘Fuck off!’ England on the other hand are in disarray. Cook still hasn’t got a decent partner. The number three spot, now Root has put himself at four, is flaky. A broken finger to Ballance, on his third recall, one too many in the view of many, fortuitously led to a debut for the Essex batsman, Tom Westley. Wood's bruised heel brings in Roland-Jones, Somerset’s nemesis with his hattrick against Yorkshire in the last game of the season last summer which denied us the title, for his debut. And Malan, a hero in the T20 at Taunton, replaces an ineffectual Dawson for his debut. As Mike Atherton observed in the Times, England have accidently stumbled on their most balanced team.

It was an overcast morning with rain threatened around lunchtime. Root won the toss and batted. A tricky morning session was in prospect. I’m in the OCS stand with Australian brother-in-law Bill, a nice guy – the exception which proves the rule – and a much slimmed down Irish who spent the day drinking large gin and tonics instead of pints, often with two in his hands at a time.

It came as no surprise that after an ungainly prod at Philander Jennings was caught in the slips for a 9 ball duck. He’ll have to bat well in the 2nd innings to get a call for Old Trafford.

Westley, on the other hand, looked instantly as if he belonged, batting assuredly with his Essex teammate. He got off the mark with a solid, smacking off-drive and hit four more before he was caught off Morris just after the early lunch which the first rain of the day had brought on. 25 was a good start to his Test career.

From lunch onwards it all got a bit messy. We went into the concourse to meet up with Plymothian Paul “Gary Glitter” Raven and his mate Graham and Peter, who was with us in Grenada, and his wife, Judith. We hadn’t even found them when we bumped into tall, white haired Michael Evans, the Plymouth BMW franchise owner, who is a member of my box at Taunton. Needless to say, I was introduced as the box’s resident leftie and champagne Socialist. He was with some friends, one of whom comes from Reigate. After a few Tory-related jibes he asked me, ‘Does your brother-in-law play bridge?’

‘Indeed he does.’

He leant over to Bill and said, ‘Were you at the Allingham bridge club on Monday?’ So he was, three days after flying in from Adelaide. The club is in Reigate. Bill is staying with my brother in neighbouring Redhill. Small world at the Oval!

After lunch, Irish and I went off to another part of the OCS with Gazza and Graham so that Peter and Judith could sit with Bill – they are going out to Adelaide in December and will stay with Bill and Alex.

As far as the cricket was concerned, it was stop/start because of rain. Root purred along for yet another another 50. Malan was unlucky to depart for nought as a result of a cracking yorker from Rabada. I didn’t actually see this because by that time I had had a call from Tufty.

Oh dear! Tufty was there with a svelt Tom looking very trim with his red beard and sculpted crest of hair. They were there with Tom’s evil looking brother and a uni pal of Tom’s. They were wasted! I discussed the state of the world with Tom, who is now, impressively, an inspector. He is not a happy man. The 1% pay cap and reductions in staffing levels mean that the Met is not a fun place to be. Tom’s vitriol was particularly aimed Theresa May, who was the subject of some choice, violently sexist and unparliamentary epithets, and the voters, ‘who’ve got what they fucking deserve.’ Thank you, Tom. I chatted to his uni friend while they queued at the Fever Tree stall for two glasses of doubles each.

While all this was going on, we were passed by a very busy Tremmers who was on his way to join mates on one of the balconies overlooking the ground. Wisely, he dodged Tom’s slurred request for them to join him. I guided the lads to some spare seats in the OCS and hastly rejoined Bill.

By this time a very responsible Stokes was grafting it out with Cookie. 59 overs had been bowled and we were 171-4. Peter thought the batting had been slow but I don’t agree. It was tough out there and we did well to be where we are. On balance, though, I thought South Africa had just edged the day.

At the end of play, Bill and I searched for the Oval Lounge for a meal but that was closed. Walking back to the Oval station to meet with Gazza and his mate, we came upon four barely upright souls swaying on a street corner whom we could not avoid – Tufty and Tom and co more or less completely out of it. Good day at the cricket for them. We declined their invitation to join them for food in Clapham. Instead Bill left for Redhill and Gazza, Graham and I took the tube to Leicester Square and ate in Chinatown.

Friday at the Oval and the ground is packed.

We do have an issue with tickets, which were bought by Aussie nephew, Neal, in Australia, so they are e-tickets. It’s a bit tricky, coming from three different places, to make sure we each have the right ticket. A few months ago I carefully emailed Bill and Irish telling them which ticket to print. Yesterday when I proferred my ticket at the gate the scanner rejected it. Irish had come in on the one I thought was mine! Fortunately, I had printed off what I thought was Bill’s in case he made a mistake. Poor much maligned Bill!

Today, soon after I got into the ground, there’s a call from Irish. ‘I’m at the gate with your ticket and I can’t get in!’ Oh,cock-up! No matter, he had the other ticket on his phone and they scanned him in on that.

We’re in the OCS stand again looking over at Surrey’s big solid 19th century pavilion, not a snobby tie in sight.

Stokes and Cook are gradually bringing the game back our way. Cook is leaving the ball judiciously and glancing to leg to bring his score into the 80s giving us hope for his 31st ton. At 183-4 the game was beginning to even up. But a ball from Morkel, which looked as if it was high and missing leg, was upheld on review. Cook trudged off but his 88 was a model of care and application and had kept us in the game.

Then came the best passage of the innings when Bairstow joined Stokes and it was belligerence from both the old comrades. Stokes accelerated from 32 to his 50 in no time and Bairstow was his usual combative self, leaning forward with great intent with his bat raised baseball fashion. When he fell on 36 Stokes reverted to circumspect.

During the morning I had a speculative call from my mate JJ, whose grandmother we had looked after. We met up behind the Pavilion by the Investec zebra for a couple of pints in the lunch interval.

After lunch, Mo was soon out and in came Roland-Jones who struck a run a ball 25 with 4 fours and a six and looked very comfortable. It augered well for his day-job when he would come to bowl. Broad didn’t stay long. At this point, as Jimmy came to the wicket, Stokes was on 91. He didn’t hang about. He clouted Maharaj to the boundary where du Plessis caught him only to fall over the rope. Another massive six took him to his ton. The crowd rose to cheer an innings that combined great responsibility with vicious attack. Another six went flying over the boundary making it a Test record of three consecutive sixes. He was out soon after but at 353 England had posted a good score on a pitch where batting wasn’t easy.

The real game changer, though, was Roland-Jones who came on first change at the Pavilion and proceeded to blow away the South African top order. He lopes in from a long easy run-up and seems very smooth and balanced in his delivery. He’s not the fastest but he’s very accurate. Elgar was caught behind of his fourth ball. In his next over Kuhn was lbw and in his following over Bairstow caught the prize wicket of Amla. Four overs later Stokes pouched de Kock. Suddenly in the space of 17 overs South Africa were 47-4, all to Roland-Jones. He was having a dream debut. 47-4 became 47-5 when du Plessis shouldered arms to a straight one from Jimmy.

Only Bavuma seemed to be able graft, although Rabada did hit 30 before he was bowled by Broad. South Africa were a bit hindered, indeed they had been when they were bowling, by a serious attack of the runs, not the sort you make with the bat, affecting Philander who had left the pitch before England finished their innings and in fact spent the night on a drip in hospital. However, at 126-8 at the close an England win in a day or so’s time looks a racing certainty.

I’m staying in his very swish flat in the old Arsenal stadium with Jan, my German economist friend who’s finishing his PhD at the London Business School. I met him in Piccadilly for a meal for whence we walked to Soho and Ronnie Scott’s for a wonderful Cuban night. Irish was joining us. The Russian doorman was about bit fierce. ‘How many?’ ‘Three.’ ‘I need to see all three’ – Irish hadn’t arrived yet. It was something about the dress code but what that might be we were hard pushed to tell. No suits and ties perhaps? Or no shorts? Must have been something like that because inside it was all very informal. Cracking evening of brilliant Cuban music and expensive drinks.


Further issues with the ticket! Bill texted me at Ronnie’s last night. ‘Have I could the right tickets?’ ‘Yes!’

Talking of tickets, I negotiated a price with a tout outside the Oval station on the way in this morning for two nice looking seats for tomorrow in the Peter May.

I took my seat today next to a rather effete gentleman who had brought his own tankard … and his beer, in a ginger beer bottle! He complained that you aren’t allowed to bring drink into the ground. I told him that there is only one ground where you can do that. He’d be better suited there. Bill joined us later.

Bavuma and Morkel weren’t easy to get out. The big bowler did a lot of massive heaves, some of which connected. He did also have a good defence. They say he’s proud of his batting. Little Bavuma did some lovely drives and soon any notion of the follow-on was out of the window: Morkel had stayed with him and done his job. Cook took a rolling catch off Anderson when he was 17. 161-9.

We weren’t sure whether that was it because of Philander’s over-night stay in hospital. But he gamely trotted down the steps to clapping and cheering. He wasn’t there long because Bavuma feathered a ball to Bairstow off Roland-Jones who was modestly jubilant about his five-for on debut. Credit to him. Bill reckons he’ll be a handful in Australia this winter.

All out for 175, South Africa are 178 behind and although it will rain this afternoon there are at least two clear days in front of us. Barring a great rear-guard action by someone like Amla we must surely win come Monday, or sooner. First, though, we need runs on the board.

Morkel opened from the Pavilion end. His rising balls are a handful Jennings didn’t look long for this world with his upright military stance but he and Cook clung on. Philander bowled six overs before he left the field, presumably for the toilet. Rain forced an early lunch.

At lunch I went round behind the Pavilion again and met Irish who was nursing two (!) large g ‘n’ t’s. He’s in the Bedser with Surrey member and recent father, James, whom we had met in Grenada. James took me into the Pavilion for a very cheap pint. What a down to earth wood panelled room it is! I haven’t, of course, been in the pavilion in the place across the river but how refreshing it is at the Oval not to be surrounded by proprietorial types swaggering about in their egg and bacon ties. As a Surrey member, James can get up to eight tickets a day for Oval Tests! I’ll be back next year!

The rain had stopped and they came out again for the second session. It was a peach of a ball from Morkel that clipped the top of Cook’s off-stump. By this time Jennings seemed to have settled. He was less stiff at the crease and hit seven nice fours. Westley, as he did in the first innings, looked completely at home. They brought up the 50 and when the rain came about an hour after lunch Jennings was on 34 and Westley on 28. That was it for the day. 74-1 and a lead of 252 looks good for an onslaught in the morning.

DAY 4 Sunday 30 July: THE END IS NIGH

The weather is set fair and, Jan my German host, who, as a result of a couple of visits to Taunton, is now an ardent cricket fan, and I set off for the Oval.

My mild apprehension about the tickets I bought yesterday off the tout were relieved when they were scanned through satisfactorily.

Jennings was soon out, 2 short of his 50. Is that enough to preserve him for Old Trafford? Probably ... just.

Westley was joined by Root who was his usual sublime self. He took a few overs to get his timing but was soon threading the ball through the field and accumulating, much more rapidly than Westley, who made only 14 runs in their 50 partnership.

In the circumstances 153-2 at lunch seemed slow progress – 79 runs in the session? But after lunch they cracked on. Root, on 50, was caught by Morkel, sweeping off Maharaj. Westley was easily stumped for a stolid 59. Malan hit a couple of fours but didn’t stay long but by that time getting quick runs was the order of the day. Malan’s wicket brought together the belligerent heart of the England batting order, Stokes and Bairstow, who entertained us with a run a ball 50 with two sixes and a lot of hard hit fours.

When Stokes was out the lead was 429 and carrying on any further seemed rather pointless but bat on they did which gave Roland-Jones another chance to shine with the bat – 23 off 19 balls including two sixes. At tea, however, Root pulled the plug. South Africa were left to chase an implausible 491!

It was soon clear that they weren’t going to do it. Broad bowled Kuhn cheaply, Roland-Jones got Amla for the second time in this match and Stokes took out de Kock and du Plessis, inexplicably shouldering arms again, in successive balls. I remarked to Jan that this is my 74th Test match and I have never seen a hat-trick. It didn’t happen.

At the end of play it’s 117-4. Only Elgar on 72 and Bavuma on 16 stand in the way of an England victory tomorrow.


[On Sunday evening I went down to Redhill for a family meal and returned to Cornwall on Monday so I missed this last day. Wycombe, who was, inattentively, there has kindly supplied this bit of the blog. Five0.]

Attracted by reasonable ticket prices for once, I took my five year old step-daughter, Hollie, to her first cricket match. She can henceforth be known as Wycombe Junior.

England struggled to get a wicket early on and as Wycombe junior’s questions ran out so did her boredom threshold. ‘Oh, no,’ I thought.

Thankfully the wickets soon came and she started to enjoy it, Toby Roland-Jones’s dismissal of Philander, a real peach for lbw (or when the ball hits the batman’s legs stopping it hitting the stumps.) It was lunch where WJ really enjoyed herself queuing up to get a water battle signed by Nasser Hussain who also posed for a picture. What a gent! The demanding WJ then wanted an Investec toy zebra. To get hold of said animal, I had to tweet something positive to Investec. Now I know how the local Durban lady felt when she tried it on with Mr Colville all those years ago ... I digress ... [I had the pleasure btw of campaigning to get Jolly Olly out of his seat in Plymouth during the general election. Five0.]

Given lunchtime was used up on toy hunting, I queued to get WJ a fish and chips before putting her back in the stands while I got myself a beer. [Safeguarding proceedings required? Five0.] Within seconds she came running out to tell me England had ‘got another one.’ This proved to be the first of Moeen’s hat-trick and he soon got another one. In the commotion of getting a much needed beverage, food for a five year old and general parenting [The mind boggles. Five0] I missed the fact it was two in two. So after an over had passed I had no understanding that Mo was on a hat-trick. The final wicket was plumb lbw (or when the ball hits the batman’s legs stopping it hitting the stumps) but bizarrely given not out by the umpire. Reviewed again and out, England have won. ‘Hang on here! They are looking far more excited than just winning the Test.’ It wasn’t until the presentation that I realised it was a hat-trick. Some journalist! Poor WJ, seeing a hat-trick in her first ever cricket match and not even realising it!


Click here for other tour diaries