TELFORD VICE at The Oval
VERNON Philander spent Friday night on a drip in hospital battling a stomach bug and will hope to be back at The Oval on Saturday to fight the good fight in a third test that is heading England’s way.
“He’s a huge cog in our wheel,” South Africa’s batting coach, Neil McKenzie, said on Friday, when Philander was able to bowl only five overs and wasn’t around to take up his usual position in the batting order.
South Africa will need him something like fit and firing in both departments if they are to stay afloat in the match, what with England ahead by 227 runs after two days.
Philander is South Africa’s last batsman left in the shed — or the hospital bed — and he will be expected to take the new ball when England bat again, assuming they don’t enforce the follow-on should they get the chance.
The visitors, who will resume on Saturday on 126/8 in reply to England’s first innings of 353, lurched to 51/7 before Temba Bavuma and Kagiso Rabada put on 53 to drag their team to three figures.
“When you’re side is 40-odd for what we were you’ve got to consider it a decent collapse,” McKenzie said.
“There’s no excuse for 126/8, but the conditions have been tough.”
Not that only two centuries being scored in the almost six innings that have comprised the series can be blamed entirely pitch and weather factors.
McKenzie offered another theory: “There are a few young guys filling gaps but maybe the experience isn’t there like it was five, six years ago.”
At 26 and playing in only his 35th test, Ben Stokes is one of those young guys. But he scored that rare thing, a century — 112, 60 of them in fours and sixes — while debutant fast bowler Toby Roland-Jones, who is three years Stokes’ senior, exploited the conditions expertly to take 4/39.
“It was the [century] I worked for the hardest,” Stokes said of his 153-ball effort.
Really? It didn’t look like it when he went from 91 to 109 with three arching sixes off consecutive deliveries from Keshav Maharaj.
Stokes’ batting partner at the time, James Anderson, would no doubt agree that Stokes had made batting look easy.
As Stokes told it: “Jimmy said, ‘What are you going to do?’ I said something like, ‘Wallop’.”
Roland-Jones, too, wasn’t in the mood to talk up his feat — which he might have done considering he needed only 24 balls to dismiss South Africa’s top four.
“As far as conditions at The Oval go it was as seamer-friendly as you’re going to find,” he said.
“I was just trying to do my best and keep my foot behind the line.”
He got that right, and how.