Choice of game
The preceding three South African tours of England have heralded the resignation of the English captain at the time (Hussain 2003, Vaughan 2008, & Strauss 2012). However, this Lord's Test signalled the beginning of Joe Root's captaincy career, and I was fascinated to witness the expected change to what had become a predictable, unfortunate narrative.
Joe Root was serenaded by loud renditions of "ROOOOT" when he hit his solitary boundary, as well as whenever the ball came anywhere near him in the field. Mark Wood's entertaining cameo also received vociferous appreciation from the stands, as he lifted English spirits after a tense end to the morning session. However, make no mistake about it, this was Moeen Ali's day. Every wicket (and there were six of them) was greeted by loud chants of "Moeen Ali" (to the tune of the Kolo & Yaya Touré chant).
The English spin duo of Ali & Dawson took 14 of the 20 South African wickets to fall. They bowled well in partnerships, and their unerring accuracy created relentless pressure on the South African batsmen, luring them into rash shots.
Face-off I enjoyed
Ben Stokes vs Kagiso Rabada. After Rabada dismissed Stokes in the first innings of this match, sent him off with a few choice words, and was subsequently banned for the next Test, I was curious about whether there was any ill-feeling remaining. Dean Elgar (standing in as captain for the absent Faf du Plessis) immediately brought Rabada on to bowl when Stokes replaced Root in the middle. Rabada was bowling in the mid-80s (mph) to Jonny Bairstow, who duly took a single off the third ball of the over, bringing Stokes on strike. The next delivery was a full, straight, effort ball that clocked in at 90mph, and had Stokes trapped plumb. Rabada put a finger to his lips. He didn't need to say anything this time.
Although Moeen's brilliant, instinctive catches to dismiss Elgar and JP Duminy were entertaining, Bairstow's catch down the leg side to dismiss Heino Kuhn was the moment that got me off my seat today. He perfectly anticipated the exact trajectory of Kuhn's leg-glance, and turned a poor delivery from James Anderson into a wicket-taking one.
When Bairstow lofted Keshav Maharaj to Vernon Philander at long-off, it seemed he would take the catch comfortably, in front of us in the Edrich Stand. However, somehow Philander managed to palm the ball to the ropes for a boundary. The crowd erupted, and the heckles aimed at Philander only worsened as the mishap was replayed on the big screens. It turned out to be quite a costly drop, as Bairstow accelerated from 7 to 51, pushing the lead beyond the 300.
Shot of the day
In a morning session that ebbed and flowed, Alastair Cook's fierce square-cut off Morne Morkel was a rare show of English dominance. He shifted his weight onto his back-foot, waited for the ball to sit up for him, and then rolled his wrists as he smashed it along the ground, to the point boundary.
As usual, the crowd at Lord's was knowledgeable and respectful. Polite applause was punctuated by the inevitable cries of "ROOOOT", and the odd champagne corks popping. The atmosphere became slightly more raucous as the day progressed, as people relaxed after what seemed to be a rather liquid lunch.
One thing I'd have changed
Dale Steyn and AB de Villiers' absence from this team was unfortunate. They have been bastions of South Africa's dominance in the last decade, and disappointingly, are unlikely to still be playing when South Africa tours next.
A major talking point in the press was the surprising nature of the pitch, with its slow nature being more suitable to The Oval rather than Lord's. Batsmen said it didn't favour them, while seamers complained that there was a lack of lateral movement. The English spinners, however, managed to use the rough, deteriorating patches on the pitch to their advantage, and caused all sorts of problems for the South African batsmen, who struggled to rotate the strike.
If South Africa had somehow managed an improbable victory in this Test, Morkel's dismissals of Cook and Gary Ballance in successive overs may have been regarded as the spark that resulted in England only adding 63 runs to their overnight total of 119/1, for the loss of seven wickets.
However, the pressure created by the accuracy of both English spinners, coupled with questionable shot-making, resulted in South Africa crumbling to 119 all out. Although Moeen rightly won Man-of-the-Match for his 10-wicket haul, Dawson needs to be commended for the pressure he built at the other end, which frustrated the South African batsmen into playing rash shots.
Joe Root (190) and Johnny Bairstow (51) both rode their luck to play crucial knocks in the first and second innings respectively. Root's innings set the game up for England to dominate, while Bairstow's pushed the English lead from achievable territory in the mid-250s, to unattainable territory, past the 300-run mark.
Tests vs limited overs
Today was a brilliant advertisement for Test cricket. The game ebbed and flowed, there were several boundaries, and an unusually high 19 wickets fell. It was the most exhilarating day of Test cricket that I have witnessed.
Marks out of 10