Moeen Ali’s first hat-trick in any standard of cricket made history at The Oval – and gave him plenty to talk about as England reflected on their 239-run victory over South Africa.
Winning captain Joe Root confirmed Moeen was full of chat about his feat, which ended the 100th Oval Test.
The off-spinner made it third time lucky for England after team-mates Ben Stokes and Toby Roland-Jones both had hat-trick chances in the second innings as South Africa stumbled to 252 all out despite a wonderfully defiant 136 from Dean Elgar.
The stoical opener was the first wicket in Moeen’s hat-trick – England’s 14th, but the only one in Test cricket by any bowler in 137 years at The Oval.
Moeen, who finished with 4-45 and has taken 18 wickets in the series, had to wait for his final wicket – from the first ball of his next over – and, with nine down already, hope Stokes did not intervene at the other end.
He did not, and Moeen had last man Morne Morkel lbw – after a review – to confirm England’s 2-1 series lead.
“I’ve never taken a hat-trick in any sort of cricket,” said the 30-year-old. “I’ve scored a few hat-tricks in football warm-ups, but this is a different sort of feeling ... a better feeling.”
He had no doubt, despite an initial not-out verdict, that Morkel would have to go – and then took his opportunity to give England’s two-in-two twins a nugget of cheeky advice.
“I told Toby and Stokes, ‘next time, just try and hit the stumps’,” he said.
Moeen’s public recap was otherwise relatively brief unlike the description he gave his team-mates, according to Root.
“He’s been talking us through (the hat-trick) for the last half-hour,” said the captain.
“It was a special way to finish, and quite a fitting one in the 100th Test here, and summed up a really good week for us.”
For Root, in only his third match as captain, it was a gratifying outcome after much criticism in England’s second-Test defeat at Trent Bridge.
“It was obviously a difficult week up in Nottingham, but the way the guys responded and character they showed to come back was outstanding,” he said, voicing as well the hope they can buck their inconsistent trend in the final Test at Old Trafford.
We’ve not done things by halves so far in this series. I think it’s just important that we take (with us) the way we’ve played this week and the tempo – especially the way we batted, which I thought was exceptional.England captain, Joe Root
“We’ve not done things by halves so far in this series.
“I think it’s just important that we take (with them) the way we’ve played this week and the tempo – especially the way we batted, which I thought was exceptional.”
Moeen, meanwhile, is revelling in his billing as a batsman – albeit down at No 8 – who also bowls.
It is a strange description for a cricketer who has taken 116 Test wickets.
But Root said: “I think Mo quite likes having that feeling of having maybe a little bit less pressure.
“But this will give him a lot of confidence that, when we need to take wickets in the fourth innings of a Test match, he’s able to do it.”
On man of the match Stokes, Root added: “He’s always been a great player, but over the last year he’s really matured and, not just in Test cricket, he’s found ways to be more consistent and affect the game.
“He thinks really well and he’s got a great cricket brain, which he doesn’t always get a lot of credit for.”
He added: “He’s a person you know you can turn to under pressure to wrest a game back in your favour.”
Stokes could not shift Elgar however hard he tried.
The gritty opener finished the match battered and bruised, but explained his liking for both a physical and verbal challenge in the middle.
“It’s part of the game – you have to roll with the punches and take the blows when they come your way,” he said.
“I prefer not getting hit. (But) it puts me in a different mindset – like the challenge is a little bit more. I guess only an opening batsman could see it that way.”
Stokes gave Elgar a bit of lip too.
“It’s something that gets me going – chirping and stuff like that that – I enjoy it,” Elgar said.
“There was a fair amount, but I expected it. England are a big huff-and-puff bowling attack and when they are on top, they are definitely going to bring their mouths as well. If the shoe was on the other foot I’m sure we’d be doing the same thing.”