It did not feel like a brave new era for English cricket, but there was no denying the effect. As England’s top three, led by former captain Alastair Cook, ground their way through the final session of the third day’s play against South Africa, the Lord’s stands emptied with everyone’s minds turning to a Saturday afternoon snooze.
Yet England’s fans could sleep easy. Their batsmen may have scored just 71 runs from 34 overs in the final session, but the home side nevertheless closed the day on 119 for one in their second innings, leading South Africa by 216 runs with two days to play in the first Test. Cook walked off unbeaten on a patient 59, while Gary Ballance had an encouraging 22 not out.
Behind them the ground staff were sweeping the pitch and great clouds of dust were billowing up into the London sunshine, a sign of just how dry the pitch has become and how difficult South Africa will find it when the time comes to bat again – probably in a bid to save the match. They lost six wickets to England’s spinners in the first innings, and Moeen Ali – who took 4 for 59 – and Liam Dawson will be licking their lips in anticipation.
South Africa trekked off to the grand pavilion of Lord’s wondering when they might catch a break. Although they have not helped themselves – with wickets off no-balls, dropped chances and the failure of set batsmen to kick on – they have also had some poor luck. That was compounded on the third morning when Vernon Philander was hit on the inside of his right hand by a delivery from James Anderson, incurring an injury that would prevent him from bowling later in the day.
Philander was yet to get off the mark at the time, and South Africa had recently lost overnight batsmen Kagiso Rabada and Temba Bavuma in the last two overs before the second new ball became available. Rabada and Bavuma had added a promising 30 to South Africa’s overnight score of 214 for five, but both fell to the spinners as Rabada (27) edged Dawson behind and Bavuma (59) nicked Ali onto Jonny Bairstow’s thigh and into the hands of Ben Stokes at slip.
When Anderson got the new ball to lift into Philander, who was hit on the bottom hand as he took it off the handle, it looked as though South Africa were in for a tough ride. But Quinton de Kock counterattacked brilliantly, getting up and running with three consecutive fours off Stuart Broad. As England bowled too full to the left-hander, he flayed the hard ball to all corners to bring up fifty in 36 balls – the second fastest at Lord’s behind Kapil Dev’s knock in 1982.
With Philander shaking off the early blow from Anderson when he was still on nought, and de Kock in full flow, South Africa briefly suggested that they could challenge the England first innings total of 458 as they reached 314 for seven. But de Kock fell into the trap set by Anderson and Joe Root, pushing a back-of-a-length delivery to Stokes in an unusual catching position at cover-point to depart for 51.
Philander fought on, hitting seven fours on his way to a sixth Test fifty. One pull shot to the fence was hit with enough gusto to suggest that there had been no damage to his right hand, but after he was bowled by Moeen Ali for 52 to bring the South African innings to a close on 361, he was dashed off to hospital for x-rays. They showed no fracture but excessive swelling that kept him off the field until the final hour of the day, when he returned in the hope of being able to take the ball on day four.
Philander’s runs had reduced the deficit to double figures and given South Africa another opportunity to get back in the match, but without his bowling they were unable to make the quick inroads required. Morne Morkel and Kagiso Rabada beat the bat regularly in a threatening opening spell that Cook and Keaton Jennings were happy to just see off, with South Africa’s desperation showing in the form of two wasted reviews. The England openers scored just 14 runs in the first nine overs, but found the going a little easier when Keshav Maharaj came on and eased to 48 without loss at tea.
The final session was a largely turgid affair as South Africa looked to shut up shop and England were unable to force the issue. JP Duminy was introduced to bowl in tandem with Maharaj and on a turning pitch neither Jennings nor Cook were willing to take them on.
South Africa earned their breakthrough when Morkel returned and Jennings fiddled at a wide delivery to be caught behind for 33. At one point Cook went 38 minutes without scoring a run, but he nevertheless made it to fifty and by the close the former captain and Ballance had put England in a dominant position.