We’re into the last week of the Group stages of the competition – next week we’ll move on to the quarter-finals. There remains Group Eight to decide, though – this article recounts Toby Roland-Jones OH (2006)’s stunning performance for England on Test debut. Vote in our Twitter poll on Friday to decide your favourite moments – the winner will progress to the quarter-final stage!
At Hampton Toby Roland-Jones was a batsman who bowled. In his final year at school, his fast-medium deliveries brought him a respectable twelve wickets in fifteen matches, average 23. Not bad figures, but he was picked mainly for his batting: in this season, 560 runs at forty, third in the averages behind Akbar Ansari and Nick Jupp. Again, a respectable return, but at this rate, any hopes of making a living out of the game could be shelved. Toby moved on to Leeds, to study Business and Accounting.
Captain of Leeds UCCE was Toby’s older brother Oliver, who had preceded him in the First XI at school. Oliver encouraged Toby to work on his bowling, and word began to go round the circuit that here was a penetrative fast-medium bowler with a repeatable action who could hit the top of off-stump. This was more like it. After a brief flirtation with Surrey’s Second XI, a contract was offered at Middlesex.
Toby’s progress at a county already well-served with competitive fast bowlers was steady and assured. With 36 wickets at twenty in his debut season 2010, the signs were promising. By 2014, he had been selected for England Lions, with 43 wickets in the season. Next year he was up to 48 and in 2016, 54. By now he was on the fringe of the test team, and was picked in the squad to play Pakistan. But the highlight of the season was the coup de grace he delivered in the county championship, winning the trophy for Middlesex with an extraordinary and sensational hat trick against Yorkshire at Lords live on Sky. He was named one of Wisden’s five cricketers of the year.
But this was just a preamble to further achievements. The high point of his career came at the Oval the following summer. Picked by England for a debut at 28, Toby first clobbered an illustrious South African bowling attack (Morkel, Philander, Rabada etc) for 25 in a partnership of 37 with Ben Stokes, before reducing the Proteas’ batting to 47 for four by removing the first four batsmen: Dean Elgar, Heino Kuhn, Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock. When he took out Bavuma to dismiss South Africa to 175 all out, Toby had taken five wickets for 57, the best Test debut by an England bowler since 2003.
With three wickets in the second innings, including star batsmen Amla and Bavuma for a second time in the match, Toby looked like an automatic pick for England’s third seamer position for the time being. When in the Old Trafford Test soon after he picked up Amla for the third time in three innings and Bavuma for the third time in four, his future looked assured. But at the moment of triumph, disaster struck, a back injury removing him from any chance of an Australian tour in the winter of 2017 – 8 and then taking him out of the 2018 season altogether. A comeback in 2019 proved successful – 33 wickets at 27, and two fifties with the bat – raising hopes that when cricket resumes after the coronavirus pandemic is over, Toby may pick up his remarkable career with further Olympian peaks to conquer.