I suspect that Andrew Strauss will have enjoyed the first day of his hundredth Test more than Graeme Smith will have enjoyed the first day of his record-tying 93rd as captain. I said yesterday that I thought it would be a good toss to lose as both captains would likely bat despite the good bowling conditions and that seems to have been the case. Smith won the toss and batted and England bowled very well in the overcast conditions, reducing South Africa to 54-4 at lunch. It was comfortably England’s best session in the field in this series and the first time South Africa had been under real pressure.
It did not come without some fortune for England, however. Both Alviro Petersen and Jacques Kallis were ‘Kasprowiczed’: given out caught to a ball that took the glove after the bat had been released. The Kallis dismissal was particularly controversial as it was given not out by the on-field umpire and reviewed by England. The ball clearly hit the glove and Rod Tucker overturned the original decision, but he seemed to completely forget that the glove had to still be holding the bat. Whilst it was a matter of millimetres and milliseconds, there was never enough evidence to actually overturn the decision and had it been the other way there might not have even been enough evidence to uphold it. It was an absolute shocker and South Africa will no doubt feel aggrieved. For England, though, the morning session represented an overdue slice of luck after a series seemingly dominated by good balls missing the outside edge or miscued shots avoiding fielders.
Apart from those two questionable dismissals, England did bowl very well through the first part of the day and the dismissals of Smith and Amla were both down to simply excellent bowling. A very good away swinger from Anderson after lunch also accounted for de Villiers, but after that England took their foot off somewhat. It is not to say that they bowled poorly, but they were not bowling those sharp, testing balls that were helping to induce errors. Part of this was that the ball was older, of course, but once it stopped moving extravagantly England seemed to relax too much. This is all too often the case with England. Rudolph and Duminy batted well, but for most of their innings they were not under the same pressure as their predecessors. Even after Rudolph gifted his wicket to Swann, England did not seem to attack enough. Philander rode his luck a bit, but then settled into a proper innings and made it to stumps 46 not out. That’s more than any of South Africa’s top five and more than Smith, Amla and Kallis scored combined. Whilst he does have some skill with the bat, England will be very disappointed with letting him score so many.
Whilst England did get Duminy out with the second new ball, that was the only one they managed to get before stumps. They did do well overall; England are on top still and I am sure that having lost the toss Strauss would have taken 262-7 at stumps. But the tale told by South Africa going from 54-4 to 105-5 to 262-7 is not a pretty one for England and they really should be batting by now.
Tomorrow England need to finish South Africa off quickly. The pitch is not a minefield; it’s still recognisably a Lord’s wicket. But it’s not quite as flat as the usual style and we have seen deliveries misbehave already. It looks like 400 is probably a par first innings score, possibly even less. England really cannot waste any more time; they have already conceded more tail end runs than they would like and one expects that England will have to bowl South Africa out for under 300 to really still be on top. And whatever score South Africa do make, England then have to match it. England’s batsmen have good records at Lord’s, but they need to keep their heads tomorrow. We saw them get in and get out at Headingley; they must not do that here. They still have a good chance to take control of this match over the next two days and it’s crucial that they start to do so tomorrow. If they fail, however, South Africa could very easily be on top by stumps.