Toby Roland-Jones may have felt that being known as the man who took a hat-trick to win his team the county championship would be a pretty decent way to ensure a distinguished place in English cricket folklore.
Yet the seamer whose extraordinary heroics at Lord’s in the final over of the final day of last season saw Middlesex beat Yorkshire to lift the title chose another grand venue across London on Friday to provide an evening almost as improbable.
For at the age of 29 when he could have been forgiven for thinking after years of hard county work that a striking international career might have passed him by, Roland-Jones enjoyed a Test debut that was the stuff of dreams.
“A pretty special day,” the modest Roland-Jones conceded to BBC’s Test Match Special, still sounding as cheerily bewildered as he had looked when the wickets kept tumbling magically to him.
“There were still some nerves at the top of the mark, but it always helps when you’ve got guys like Jimmy (Anderson) and Stuart (Broad) who guided me through the opening few overs — and I was on adrenaline after that.”
That adrenaline made him almost unstoppable. Brought into the team only through injury to Mark Wood, Roland-Jones grabbed his belated chance with an eight-over spell that helped him rip through South Africa’s entire top four.
Looking nerveless and with a big smile both while he was batting and when in the field, Roland-Jones looked determined to enjoy his big day from the start when he scored a blistering run-a-ball 25.
Looking like a batsman who has a first-class hundred to his name, his effort included a mishit pulled six and provided sterling service to Ben Stokes as he went on to a formidable century.
Then after England had compiled 353, Roland-Jones was thrown the ball by captain Joe Root in place of James Anderson just before tea and, with his 10th ball, had opener Dean Elgar caught behind, a moment that brought him as much surprise as delight.
“I didn’t know he had nicked it, I didn’t hear anything,” Roland-Jones said. “Fortunately, the umpire did.”
After the resumption with dark clouds threatening, the ball darted around to order for him as he ended up taking 4-15 in just 33 balls, with the rearing delivery that swung away and glanced off Hashim Amla’s glove being the pick.
“That was probably the best wicket of the bunch, with all that he’s done in the game,” Roland-Jones said of the man who scored a triple hundred in his last Test at the Oval.
His opening burst helped reduce the South Africans to 126-8, still short of the follow-on target. “Particularly in the context of the game, we stand here on day two in a pretty strong position,” he said.
If Roland-Jones takes one more wicket on Saturday, he will be the first England bowler since Graham Onions in 2009 to take a ‘five for’ in his debut Test innings.
Not that he will be putting pressure on Root to throw him the ball again first thing. “Absolutely not. First game in, I think I’ll leave that to him!” Roland-Jones smiled.