England v South Africa, 1st Test, Lord's, 2nd day July 12, 2008

England heed the Kiwi lesson

There was something decidedly Kiwi about England's performance with the ball today

Mark Boucher is crammed for room outside off stump by England's tight line of attack © Getty Images

At least Graeme Smith has managed to retain his new-found sense of humour. As he and Neil McKenzie walked off at the end of a torrid day's play, the pair could only grin at the indignity to which they had been subjected. After being asked to bat again, 346 runs in arrears, they did at least avoid the humiliation of being dismissed by Kevin Pietersen armed with the new ball, but that - frankly - was as good as their day got. Not even a sparkling 101 from Ashwell Prince could mask the inadequacy of their performance, for the third day running.

For England, on the other hand, the past three days have been clinical in their excellence. It is hard to recall a match that they have dominated so unequivocally - except perhaps the 2006 Lord's Test against Sri Lanka, in which they led by 359 runs on first innings and had claimed three more in the second by the close of the third day's play. And yet, Sri Lanka somehow rallied to escape with a share of the match, to start an improbable run of five consecutive draws on this ground. With two days remaining and the weather unpredictable, England know that there can be no let-up just yet.

No-one imagines that England will allow their standards to slip, however, because the diligence of their under-rated four-pronged attack was matched by the delight they displayed as they went about their jobs. The ball failed to swing as it had done on Friday evening, but Ryan Sidebottom and James Anderson ploughed their furrows outside off and accepted what little movement came their way, a tactic that was inevitably followed by Stuart Broad, whose appetite for accuracy must surely be rewarded with wickets one day soon. Only twice in 12 innings has Broad failed to take a wicket, but his best to date remains the 3 for 54 he collected as Sidebottom's sidekick in Napier back in March.

Talking of Napier, there was something decidedly Kiwi about England's performance with the ball today, and little wonder - after six hard-fought Tests against supposedly outclassed opponents, England have learned all about the virtues of discipline in the face of adversity. Andrew Strauss suggested in the build-up to the Test that a little more pace and room to free the arms would play into England's hands, and so it has proved to date. Doubtless South Africa's chastened firebrands will have got the hint by the time the Headingley Test comes around, but until then, England's bowlers have got another innings in which to ram the lesson home.

Today was, as Monty Panesar has occasionally been known to say, a day for putting the ball in the right areas. Astoundingly, Panesar - doubtless expecting to be lampooned for his predictability - declined to use that legendary phrase when he faced the media after play, even though it would have been the mot juste for England's performance. "Today was hard work for all of us as a unit, but we stayed patient and that applied a lot of pressure," he said. Which amounted to the same thing.

Whatever way he chose to describe his efforts, Panesar was superb. Ever since they first crumbled against the might of Shane Warne, South Africa have long been considered woeful against spin, and yet, such a reputation cannot explain their longstanding success on the subcontinent - four wins out of ten against India since readmission, including a drawn series as recently as April. Today, however, Panesar rendered them clueless against the turning ball. The sight of McKenzie being bowled around his legs instilled panic in the lower order, and while the spin he extracted was sharp, it did not justify the rash of sweeps, slogs and misjudgements that hustled South Africa to the follow-on.

"I'll get the odd one to turn here and there, but in general at Lord's you have to be patient," said Panesar. "You're not going to get wickets straight up, so you have to work for them. Exploiting the conditions and knowing what to do is something I am learning all the time, so it's about knowing on any given day what the conditions are and applying your skills."

Panesar's summary could have applied equally to South Africa's batsmen or bowlers, none of whom knew what to expect from the surface, and telegraphed their unease throughout. "As far as their bowling is concerned, they understand English conditions very well and know more than our guys which lengths to bowl on different pitches in England," said Prince, whose joy at a maiden Lord's hundred was muted by the circumstances. "I'm sure as the series goes on our guys will learn, and hopefully rather quickly, which are the lengths to hit. It's not just about the pace and we know that."

For now, South Africa must embark on a long and treacherous hike to safety, one that Smith and McKenzie at least got underway safely enough in the fading light this evening. "We know South Africa are a tough team, so we're preparing for a tough day tomorrow," said Panesar, who can always be relied upon to promote the cautious side of England's game. As for South Africa, they have Sri Lanka's rearguard to use as a touchstone, and a few fast-fading memories of past Lord's glories to inspire them. But for Smith, from this position, a share of the match would surely be every bit as much of a triumph as he achieved on this ground in 2003.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo