LONDON: The Oval has extracted every last drop of publicity from its 100th Test but even the famous old ground’s PR department would have struggled to dream up an ending so dramatic it may be talked about 100 games hence.
After an unremarkable morning, Moeen Ali bounced up to the crease as the third English bowler to be on a hat-trick in South Africa’s second innings of the third Test.
After a frenzied appeal, nail-biting review and final finger of doom, Moeen became the first player to achieve the feat in a Test at The Oval and the first English spinner to bag a hat-trick since Tom Goddard in 1938.
Every now and then, cricket conjures up days that span generations. Within minutes of Moeen dismissing the unfortunate Morne Morkel, who had earlier bowled superbly for South Africa for no reward, statistics started to drip feed out of computers.
This was the third time a Test had been completed with a hat-trick and the first for 115 years. Never before have four batsmen been out for golden ducks in the same Test innings.
Moeen will no doubt appreciate his place in history but on Monday it was all about the here and now, a performance that confirmed his rapid progress in this series.
With batting conditions the easiest of the game, and visible patches of rough to exploit, the 30-year-old off-spinner was always likely to be asked to play the lead role on the final day.
He delivered a telling blow with the last ball before lunch, from which Chris Morris was caught by Ben Stokes at slip, and followed up in the 12th over after the interval by having Dean Elgar and Kagiso Rabada also snaffled by the Durham man before the coup de grace dismissal of Morkel.
“I couldn’t believe it didn’t get given straight away,” said Stokes. “It was a dramatic end to a dramatic day – Dean Elgar hit a really gutsy hundred and it was good to see the back of him, so congratulations to Mo.”
Moeen has taken 18 wickets in the series at an average of under 15 in 2017. These impressive statistics reflect the new-found confidence to deliver slower balls, often tossed up to keep the batsmen guessing.
The more he has been dropped down the order – for this Test the former opener came in at number eight – the more he has accepted that his primary role is to take wickets, particularly given England’s decision to dispense with second spinner Liam Dawson at The Oval.
There were times in the second Test at Trent Bridge when Moeen had seemed underemployed, particularly after his match-winning 10-wicket haul at Lord’s in the first.
Lack of overs is unlikely to be a problem again and, with 116 wickets, he could overhaul spinners Phil Tufnell (121), Ray Illingworth (122) and Phil Edmonds (125) on England’s all-time wicket-taking list by the time the summer is out.
Moeen still has a way to go before surpassing Derek Underwood’s 297 victims but England’s history man will do well to top his Oval performance.
Three balls, three wickets, one never to be forgotten moment.