Eng vs SA, 3rd Test
Cricket

Eng vs SA, 3rd Test


On the day cricket took the sporting lead at the Kia Oval in paying respects to Queen Elizabeth II and honouring the new King George III, it was Ollie Robinson who led England some way to victory in this match and the series.

On day three of the third Test, the first of any play after Thursday’s rain and Friday’s cancellation out of respect for the passing of the Queen, Robinson’s 5 for 49 helped skittle South Africa for 118 in their first innings. A total that meant even with the host’s own missteps towards the end of Saturday, they lead by 36 with three wickets still in hand.

A recall in the second Test at Emirates Old Trafford for the expense of Matthew Potts represented a new chapter for Robinson, putting injury and general fitness issues behind him to take five in the match (1 for 48 and 4 for 43) as England levelled with an innings-and-85-run win. These five in the space of 14 overs, which not only are new a career-best but put him one away from 50 victims in the format in just his 11th appearance, reinforced the faith shown in him by captain Ben Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum and underlined the hard work he has put in to re-establish himself in the XI.

The accuracy and ability to manipulate the ball to outfox even the most seasoned pros – like when he took Dean Elgar’s off stump for a walk in the second over of the match – is now reinforced by a bit of extra pace and stamina. According to CricViz, his averaged speed this season, admittedly only three innings long so far, is 82.9mph – the highest across the three he has played so far. Summer 2021 (80.9mph) and the 2021-22 winter in Australia (79.2mph) being the others.

It is an improvement he recognises full well, particularly how he stacks up in later spells, not that they were needed with just 36.2 overs required to dismiss the Proteas first-up. Nevertheless, an initial eight-over spell of 4 for 21 was relentless throughout.

“I don’t feel like too much is different,” said Robinson in his post-match press conference. “[I’m] still focusing on the same things – accuracy, bounce, bit of movement. The things we’ve noticed a little bit more is later on in the day, my pace has stayed more level compared to what it was maybe 12 months ago, which is something I’ve really worked on in the last three or four months. Those second, third and fourth spells, there’s a bit more intensity to them than maybe there was before.”

He cedes conditions were tailor-made for his style. Stokes’ victory at the toss two days ago was more relevant with just as much cloud cover but not as much precipitation, with just the one delay for rain which did not last long enough to lose overs.

“With the weather around, the wicket being under the covers for three days, it did feel like one of the bowlers was going to get a bagful,” said Robinson, who currently boasts an average of 19.79. “Fortunately it was me and it’s put the team in a great position going forward.”

There was also an admission that he wasn’t quite at his most comfortable. Operating with the new ball from the Pavilion End while James Anderson (1 for 16) opened up from the Vauxhall End, he had trouble with his approach.

“I actually didn’t feel that great. My run-up was all over the place, couldn’t find a rhythm, I was just trying to focus on smashing out the length, really. I felt better at Old Trafford, obviously didn’t get the rewards, but it’s not the best I’ve felt.”

Nevertheless, Robinson’s exploits capped what the England and Wales Cricket Board might regard as their most successful on and off the pitch for some time. The decision to continue with the match was not taken lightly, the need to lead the way with the public mourning and celebrating a change in monarchy as much of an honour as it was a huge responsibility. From the moment of silence, the sombre adorning around the ground, to the singing of “God Save The King”, it was note-perfect. The players, at the centre of it all, were appreciative of the opportunity to pay their respects.

“It felt special, said Robinson. “It felt like a really special morning to be a part of. To share our respects in the way we did was a huge honour for us and the silence that we experienced walking down those steps is something none of us have ever experienced. It just shows the respect and honour that we have for the last few days.

“The message was pretty clear from Ben: just go out there, be positive and try and force a result, play brave cricket, and I think we did that here.”

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor for ESPNcricinfo



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