Toby Roland-Jones is not being taken seriously. South Africa certainly learned he was no joke after five wickets in the first innings and three in the second, but outside the confines of The Oval boundaries, Roland-Jones’ success was met with a cheeky grin.
He was viewed as the everyday chap with a posh-sounding name who doesn’t bowl particularly fast and is getting on a bit, but nevertheless is taking it to the Saffers. Every post-wicket cheer may as well have been rounded off with a ‘go on my son’.
But Roland-Jones isn’t the havea-go hero you’re just as likely to meet in your local club’s pavilion as at Lord’s. He is a proper, Test-class bowler to be fawned over, just like Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, rather than someone to be faintly patronised.
The air of condescension started as soon as Roland-Jones started chipping way under gloomy, spitting clouds. ‘Great bowler in these conditions’ they crowed.
Well, Anderson, of nearly 500 Test wickets, is the archetypal bowler under grey skies – and he was hooked out of the attack in a bold move by captain Joe Root to accommodate the new man. Everyone else followed his lead.
One prominent journalist even suggested Alan Richardson, a highly productive if limited county seamer who never won a cap, would have been ‘unplayable’ in such conditions while others offered more English stalwarts of that ilk such as Dave Masters, Rikki Clarke, and even Kent’s chief dibbly-dobbler Darren Stevens.
They would only have ever touched 80mph on a very energetic day. Even though he comfortably exceeds that mark some of you, by habit, will have checked the speed gun following each of RolandJones’ wicket-taking ball and applied an asterisk to both barrels of his name.
Roland-Jones had watched Anderson and Stuart Broad bowl a touch short and immediately started pitching it fuller.
It was a change of tack that showed all his wiliness yet often on the international stage, if you lack the searing pace or simply don’t pass rigid physical parameters, guile or cleverness is sneered at as an inadequate substitution.
In fact, England have stumbled upon a highly consistent, classical seamer who perfected his game on the county circuit and delivered on debut like a player who is supremely confident of his ability.
By accident or design, they have finally placed their trust in polished county products as Tom Westley, who also showed promise as No3 batsman, plugged away at Essex for a decade before receiving his cap at the age of 28.
At one point during the first innings Roland-Jones conceded four runs from an overthrow. It may have knocked an ordinary rookie off his stride, but not a 29-year-old who has sent down nearly 17,000 balls in his first-class career.
He erred from a good line at times – he went for four an over in the second innings, a debutant can’t have it all – but he simply ambled back to his mark like he belonged. And he does. Roland-Jones also belongs in an Ashes squad, as neither flat tracks nor Australian sunshine should reveal any deficiencies.
He has taken apart some of county game’s best batting units on many benign wickets with Middlesex at Lord’s – until last year, results at the home of cricket were few and far between.
The next big thing can wait for now. The present generation, it turns out, are quite good.