Mayday calls to county cricket for emergency fast bowlers rarely get answered as quickly or effectively. Yet the Worcestershire seamer was not only a point of difference on his England debut, but seamlessly slipped into the various roles his captain requested.
“He must think I’m a pretty good bloke giving him his Test debut,” Stokes joked, speaking after he had led the team to an 11th win in 13 Tests. The sentiment is clearly reciprocated because of Tongue’s expertise and enthusiasm.
“I told him the role that I saw him playing in this team as our third seamer, and used him in a way to get different types of spells out of one bowler,” Stokes added.
“His first spell, he came on and bowled really well pitching the ball up. Then we looked to use his pace to use him as the aggressor when we needed to and the wicket got a bit flat. For him to show he’s more than one type of bowler does us the world of good as a team going forward, knowing we’ve found someone else who can fulfil the role of the guys with the extra pace.”
“Bowling the long spell yesterday and two long spells today, I wasn’t quite sure of how to manage him so early on,” said Stokes. “But I was very, very impressed with the way he just said yes to the plans I wanted him to operate under.”
But Tongue’s opening burst on Friday evening for his first three wickets was proper, and in many ways the perfect distillation of what he offers. As were the 13 overs, 0 for 40, on day one, which was the prologue to him raising the ball to all sides of the ground on Saturday.
“He was very unlucky not to get a wicket in the first innings but he definitely reaped the rewards [in the second],” Stokes said. “The way he bowled contributed to the five wickets he got in that innings because they were already on the back foot against him, knowing he’s got that extra bit of pace. He can bowl 90mph full and short, so he was sort of one step ahead in the second innings already because of how he bowled in the first innings.”
Ahead of that maiden spell, Stokes had taken it upon himself to strip away as much of the occasion as possible, once James Anderson had presented Tongue his cap. It was only when Tongue came onto bowl after 10 overs on day one that there was anything akin to a pep talk.
“I kept it simple,” Stokes said. “I told him to just run in and do what you do – and then I’ll worry about the rest of the stuff. Let the lad go out and bowl in the way that’s got him here in the first place.”
By all accounts, he did not seem daunted by coming into a side on such a high. Vice-captain Ollie Pope remarked on Friday that it had not looked like Tongue was around the squad for the first time. On personality as well as skill, he has fitted into the dressing-room.
“Everyone is real easy to get on with and I guess it helps someone like that, who no doubt would have been quite nervous and anxious about being in his first dressing-room as an England player for the first time,” Pope said.
And now it’s official. It won’t be the last time he sets foot in that dressing-room, certainly not this summer. Having grasped an unlikely opportunity on and off the field, it seems Tongue has banked at least two Ashes Tests.
Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo