Toby Roland-Jones saw his dream debut continue as he completed a five-wicket haul to end South Africa’s belated resistance and ensure England maintained their domination of the third Test at The Oval on Saturday.
Yet the home side’s push for victory to move 2-1 ahead in the four-Test series was threatened by the south London weather as afternoon rain ended up wiping out half the day’s play with England on 74-1 in their second innings, 252 runs ahead.
Roland-Jones had spearheaded the dismissal of South Africa for 175 on the third morning of the 100th Oval Test to give England a 178-run first innings lead before another newcomer Tom Westley then helped hammer home the advantage.
The Essex new boy Westley, just as in his first innings 25, looked perfectly at home on 28 not out as he and Keaton Jennings, who rode his luck to reach 34, both fought impressively to secure their England futures before the rain came.
Earlier, Temba Bavuma’s fine half-century had led a spirited rearguard action from the South African tail, but Roland-Jones eventually dismissed him for 52 to finish off the innings and boast remarkable debut figures of 5-57 off 16.4 overs.
Roland-Jones, the 29-year-old Middlesex seamer who had ripped through the Proteas’ top four on Friday in his first 33 balls, became the first England bowler since Graham Onions against West Indies at Lord’s in 2009 to take a five-wicket haul in a Test debut first innings.
Little Bavuma, who came in with the South Africans in disarray at 47-4 on Friday, demonstrated considerable calmness and real spirit to ensure they made a decent recovery from their worst plight when 61-7 on Friday evening.
He was given support from Morne Morkel, with a stubborn 39-ball 17, and last man Vernon Philander, fit to bat after being discharged from hospital following Tests for the stomach ailment that had kept him off the field for much of the first two days.
Bavuma, who ensured the follow-on was avoided with a lovely cover driven four, survived a tough chance on 40 off Stuart Broad when Ben Stokes could not hold on to his flying one-handed attempt in the gully.
Otherwise, Bavuma always seemed in control, going past 1,000 runs in Tests before fighting on to his half-century off 111 balls with eight boundaries.
James Anderson eked out Morkel, caught at slip, before Roland-Jones, who had earlier been given the first crack at landing his ‘five for’ by captain Joe Root, was recalled for a second spell and had Bavuma caught behind by Jonny Bairstow.
When England batted again, Jennings, on six, was dropped by Dean Elgar in the gully off Philander just before rain brought an early lunch and on the resumption, Morkel worked over Alastair Cook before bowling him for seven.
Jennings was given out, either lbw or for a catch, by umpire Joel Wilson on 33 only to survive on review but Westley looked confident, striking six boundaries in his 38-ball stay.
With two days still to play, South Africa’s main concern remained with Philander, who was reported to be still vomiting and suffering abdominal pain from his viral infection and had to leave the field again after his sixth over.