In the end it was nothing short of a rout. Keaton Jennings took a tumbling catch in the outfield, South Africa were bowled out for 119 in their second innings, and the first Test was over with a day to spare. Joe Root had the perfect start to his England captaincy, a whopping 211-run victory, and once the applause began to die down his name echoed around Lord’s. England look like a team who know where they are going, and they were led off the field by Moeen Ali after his 6 for 53 in 15 overs. England look like a team who know where they are going, and they were led off the field by Moeen Ali after his 6 for 53 in 15 overs, which gave him 10 wickets in the match.
While the result had looked likely from as early as day two, few expected it to be secured so swiftly. But South Africa fell in a heap, their second innings lasting just 36.4 overs, the match lost in their minds as much as anywhere else. The pitch had been misbehaving and a target of 331 always looked too much, but it was poor batting rather than the surface that did for most of the South African batsmen.
Faf du Plessis watched on from the balcony, having returned to London overnight. His return will provide some reassurance for a team that came into the series unsettled, but there are clearly many more issues for South Africa to solve ahead of the second Test at Trent Bridge on Friday (July 14). They are only 1-0 down in a four-match series but it feels like a long way back from here.
It all felt very different in the morning session as South Africa took 7 for 63 and hinted – not for the first time in the match – that they might fight their way back into contention. Alastair Cook and Gary Ballance survived the first 11 overs of the day, but could scratch out just 13 runs in that time to take England to 142 for two.
South Africa were richly rewarded for not allowing England to get away from them when Cook drove Morne Morkel to cover to depart for 69. It was the ninth time that Morkel had dismissed Root in Tests – the joint most of any bowler alongside Mitchell Johnson. He went on to have Ballance caught behind for 34 in his next over, before Keshav Maharaj bowled Joe Root off the inside edge.
A fourth wicket went down when a delivery from Kagiso Rabada kept low to Ben Stokes to ping him dead in front. Stokes walked off before the umpire had even lifted his finger, while Rabada raised his index finger to his lips to indicate that there would be no ban-inducing outbursts this time around.
South Africa should have maintained their momentum when Jonny Bairstow lofted Maharaj out to wide long-off, but Vernon Philander spilled a regulation chance. Bairstow was on seven at the time, and went on to score 51 as he pushed the lead past 300. Although South Africa wrapped up the English innings after lunch, with Maharaj finishing with 4 for 85 and Morkel and Rabada taking three wickets apiece, a target of 331 looked a big ask on a turning pitch. Only the West Indies, back in 1984, had chased as many at Lord’s.
Any suggestion that South Africa might pull off a similar achievement was mercilessly crushed. Once Heino Kuhn was out to James Anderson, strangled down the leg side in the seventh over, the procession began. Dean Elgar smashed a return catch to Ali, who took it sharply, and JP Duminy pulled a short ball from Mark Wood straight to midwicket. None of the batsmen could blame the pitch – a fact that makes Duminy’s case for retention at Trent Bridge even weaker.
Quinton de Kock’s elevation to number five suggested that South Africa are open to changes. It hardly helped in this instance though – two overs after his arrival at the crease, Hashim Amla played down the wrong line to be trapped lbw by Liam Dawson and South Africa were 28 for four, their chances of seeing out the day suddenly looking slim.
De Kock and Temba Bavuma hinted at a revival with a bolshy stand, but it did not last long. Both were bowled within five Ali deliveries, with de Kock a shade unlucky as he hit a delivery onto his foot before it rebounded onto the stumps. Bavuma’s mistake was being too eager to pull on a pitch with uneven bounce.
His 21 turned out to be the top score for South Africa. Theunis de Bruyn edged to slip off Ali, who was raising the match ball in the air and signalling a five-wicket haul to the crowd in his next over when Maharaj dragged him on. The end came swiftly for South Africa, who only reached three figures thanks to Philander and Morkel’s belated boundaries.