This is true Test cricket. After frenetic T20s and ODIs, this is a return to white clothing, and 119 runs scored in 51 overs for only one wicket, writes GARY LEMKE.
It’s attritional and it’s mentally and physically challenging. And after three days of the First Test at the home of cricket, England find themselves 216 runs ahead, with nine wickets remaining and about 180 overs of cricket still left in this match. It’s a commanding situation.
Should England bat for another two sessions on Sunday, they should have more than enough runs in the bank to set the Proteas four sessions to bat to save the game.
On a Lord’s pitch that is deteriorating, and with mounting scoreboard pressure there can only be one winner in this Test – and that’s England. But, a draw, one which will take an immense batting effort from the tourists, is still an outside possibility. Especially if the fickle English weather decides to throw a curve ball.
This is a pitch when a batsmen is never ‘in’, which is always giving the fielding some chance, so it’s obvious that the 216-run lead England have going into Sunday’s fourth day is substantial. A telling statistic of the ‘not truly in’ opinion is that eight batsmen so far have reached 50 runs in this Test. Of those, six have been out in the 50s, with the other two being Joe Root’s 190 (remembering he should have been out at least three times along the way) and Moeen Ali’s 87.
And that too shows when the first Test will be won and lost. Root and Ali will vie for man-of-the-match honours, although it already seems obvious that the England captain will win that accolade (it’s his first Test in that role), but Ali is likely to play a huge role with the ball when England bowl again.
Given a pitch that is increasingly uneven and a ball spitting out of the bowler’s footmarks, Liam Dawson and Ali are going to be the bowlers that the South African batsmen are going to have to negotiate if they are to get results out of this Test.
Yes, South Africa have been hampered by Vernon Philander’s injury, which ruled him out of bowling in England’s second innings after he was struck on the hand while batting – he was one of the eight players in this game to reach 50 at the crease – but the tourists, three days in, have been made to pay for two poor sessions on the opening day.
Again, that’s the beauty of Test cricket. England took their chances on day one and because they’re a quality side, South Africa have been on the back foot ever since. Sure, they’re battling manfully and sticking to their task.
The lower-order batting, with Quinton de Kock and Philander adding valuable runs with the second new ball, helped the Proteas to 361 – a deficit of 97 – and the second innings bowling effort have proved this.
But you have to think that later on Sunday and Monday it’s going to take a proper Test ‘dig in’ by someone like Elgar or Hashim Amla – aided later by Temba Bavuma – to save this Test. This is attritional cricket and going deep into the match, it doesn’t need to be pretty. Getting an ugly result is the only thing that matters.
All the cards are stacked in England’s favour, but South Africa have a chance if someone – remember Mike Atherton’s heroic Test-saving innings at the Wanderers – sticks up their hand. From what we have seen so far on the Proteas’ trip to to England across all formats, it is a big ask.
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