England 111 for 3 (Bairstow 38*, Crawley 17*) trail South Africa 151 (Rabada 36, Anderson 3-32, Broad 3-37) by 40 runs
Elgar’s logic had been dictated to a large degree by South Africa’s team selection, with Simon Harmer restored to the XI as a second spin option alongside Keshav Maharaj, and given his prowess for Essex in the County Championship over the past five years, he could yet come into his own later in the match, on a ground where he has claimed 15 wickets at 17.60 in his three matches against Lancashire.
For the time being, however, Harmer has been limited to an exploratory final over of the day, while the absence of the lanky left-armer Marco Jansen looks like a potential oversight on a pitch offering consistent seam movement as well as extra bounce for England’s quicks – not least the restored Ollie Robinson, who utilised his high release point to challenge both edges of the bat, and hinted at a renewed commitment to his fitness levels in the quickest spell of his Test career to date.
Though he claimed a solitary wicket in his first outing since the Hobart Test in January, Robinson was a handful in each of his 14 overs, spread across three spells, not least for the opener, Sarel Erwee. Despite his key contributions to the Lord’s win, Erwee was never allowed to settle as Anderson and Robinson hounded him in a probing new-ball pairing, and after playing-and-missing relentlessly in an unconvincing 12-ball stay, Anderson found his inside-edge to carve an opening in the fifth over of the day.
Elgar fared little better, even after a reprieve on 10 when Robinson was denied a catch at short leg after overstepping. After taking 16 balls to get off the mark, Elgar had been limited to a solitary punched boundary through long-off when Broad – entering the attack as the hour mark approached – hit a good length outside off with a hint of away movement. Jonny Bairstow at third slip stooped low to gather, and South Africa’s captain was gone for 12.
Keegan Petersen connected with a trio of off-side boundaries – two of them firm cuts and one fat edge past the slips – in his innings of 21, but Broad’s hungry introduction cut short his progress. This was the first time since the Cape Town Test of 2009-10 that he and Anderson had not shared the new ball when playing together, and in his third over, more steep bounce on a good length kissed the edge of the bat as Petersen got squared up with flat feet. Joe Root at first slip swallowed the edge to leave South Africa wobbing at 41 for 3.
Aiden Markram and Rassie van der Dussen compiled the beginnings of a fourth-wicket stand to restore South Africa’s hopes of reaching lunch without further damage. But Stokes, in a typically golden-armed intervention, had other ideas.
Stokes’ first breakthrough was reminiscent of Ian Botham’s maiden Test wicket in 1977 – a rank long-hop that deserved to get the treatment, but instead induced the error from the batter. Markram swung lustily across the line, but managed only a steepling top-edge to Foakes, running back towards fine leg.
One over later, van der Dussen was gone as well, to an each-way bet of an lbw decision from umpire Chris Gaffaney. The ball thumped the front pad very close to the inside edge, and carried through to the keeper. Van der Dussen reviewed, but the decision stood, with DRS returning an umpire’s call verdict on both impact and the top of the leg bail.
It didn’t take long after lunch for the wickets to flow again – two in two for Anderson, as first Harmer and Maharaj were nailed on the front pad for plumb lbws. Kyle Verreynne then became Broad’s third, as he snicked another off-stump lifter through to Foakes for 21, but England’s habitual struggles to see off the tail resurfaced before tea as Rabada took to the long handle with Nortje for company.
Straight after the break, however, Robinson earned his first wicket since the Hobart Test in January as Nortje was pinned plumb lbw, before Rabada – with only Lungi Ngidi for company – aimed a wild hack at Jack Leach to be caught at slip.
That left England with a full session in which to survive or thrive, and given neither of their efforts at Lord’s had extended beyond 45 overs, there was no immediate guarantee that South Africa would not be batting again before the close. Sure enough, Alex Lees was caught behind in Ngidi’s first over, before Ollie Pope’s skittish attempts to force the pace came a familiar cropper at the hands of Nortje’s genuine pace.
But it was Root’s extraction, at 43 for 3 in the 14th over, that could truly have rattled England’s cage. As at Lord’s, his dismissal was prefaced by a loud groan of “oh no!” – such is the surety of his shot selection, he’s equally sure when he’s got his choices wrong – as Erwee at first slip juggled a full four times before clutching a precious chance to his chest.
Crawley by this stage was deeply entrenched on a dour 7 from 34 balls – a far cry from the flowing attributes for which he has been retained in the team. And yet, his innings was characterised first and foremost by good choices, a steadfast refusal to be lured outside the eyeline, and a blank-batted resolve to see off anything and everything that challenged the line of off stump.
He struck just one four in his first 69 balls – and that, off Ngidi, was a freebie into his pads – before picking off a sweep against Maharaj in the dying moments of the day. But, with the match situation set in stone by South Africa’s early collapse, Crawley’s lack of hurry was in itself a positive option, in the truest sense of the mindset shift that Brendon McCullum has set about instilling in his players.
It certainly offered Bairstow a bedrock from which to push into his own evening’s work. This was not a return to the dashing displays that had lit up his efforts against New Zealand and India, but nor, in the circumstances, did it need to be. And yet, six peppered boundaries kept his innings ticking along at a strike-rate of 84, to ensure England as a whole were still easing along at a notch under four an over – and to ensure the sight of Broad in his pads on the pavilion balcony, ready to be unleashed as the “Nighthawk” if the need had arisen. In spite of the manifest flaws on display, they could not have dreamed of a match situation that plays more clearly to their strengths.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket