32 overs were possible on the opening day of the English series against South Africa, but it was enough time for the Proteas’ excellent four-pronged attack to draw first blood with six key wickets.
Having been asked to bat first, England were 116 in six when the rain came half an hour after lunch. It quickly settled and, with a bit of thunder and lightning, stumps were called a few hours later, despite the world famous drainage at Lord’s. A lake had formed over a lush green field that gave little hint of the drought that has set in since England last played Test cricket a month ago.
It was a fairly straightforward decision for South African skipper Dean Elgar after winning the toss. England had four excellent wins in June and early July, but they all came in pursuit. Ben Stokes does not hide his preference for the second batter.
Low cloud, rain forecast, green terrain, and attacking South Africa made this mission altogether trickier for the First Order. The only player to pull it off was Ollie Pope, who survived 61 years and not just 87 balls when the rain came.
Of the rest, only the first wicket to fall, Alex Lees, was really to blame. He had a big drive on the last ball of Kagiso Rabada’s second over and was caught from behind.
Rabada had returned to form after an ankle injury and made an instant impact leading an excellent attack. Lungi Ngidi was precise with the new ball at the other end, while Marco Jansen and Anrich Nortje, both playing Test cricket in England for the first time, were a real handful of change bowlers.
Jansen is a 6ft 8in southpaw, while Nortje found a ball at 93mph to fire Jonny Bairstow for a duck from Nursery End, then was even more dangerous – picking up Stokes and Ben Foakes – after moving on to Pavilion End . It may take a few days before Keshav Maharaj, favored over Simon Harmer, wins this game.
Rabada took second wicket Zak Crawley for another single digit score. He was worked on Rabada’s opening spell, and eventually managed to slip one in, where Aidan Markram took a good hold.
Joe Root was disappointed to give weight to Jansen as a ball coming back at him just kissed the outside of the leg stump. Bairstow, the man of the summer, was beaten soon after by Nortje to leave England 55 for six.
Stokes joined Pope and stabilized England, hitting a series of ground drives. But Stokes fell on the last ball of the session as he was squared by Nortje, who had now traded ends.
Resuming after the break, Nortje was too fast for Foakes, whose inside edge dug into his stumps. With the light approaching and the rain approaching, Stuart Broad – the Nighthawk? – came out at No8. Luckily for England, he only had to face two balls before the rain arrived.
Amid the carnage, Pope was largely serene. He was busy early on, progressing in the seams and running hard in singles. Clean shots came, like the one that took him fifty through the covers. If England and their long tail are to post a competitive total on day two, Pope holds the key.