These days, it seems most cricket fans are split into two camps: those who love the ‘Bazball’ England and those who use it as a taunt, waiting for England to trip. And so, England’s Test against South Africa whipped up extreme sentiments before the game and during the first two enthralling days. South Africa ended up the second day with 124 runs ahead with three wickets intact. Will that be a potentially match-winning lead or will the Bazballers whack a huge total in their second innings to flip the South African omelette back on the frying pan?
The thing is a couple of months back, it could have been said for sure that South Africa are truly on top especially when the stats show that England have won only two of their last 25 tests where they have scored below 200 when batting first. But now, one has to wait and watch – and that in itself is a tribute to England’s new approach.
If not for a freak dismissal to their dogged fighter of a captain Dean Elgar, South Africa could well and truly have cooked the English goose. He had moved to 47, nudging, punching, nurdling his away as ever, and had already ticked his father’s checklist when watching the son. “When Dean plays the ball off his pads then I know all is well. It’s a bit strange but somehow that tells me he is focused, his balance is fine, and he is going to be okay,” his father Richard had once told this newspaper, and Dean Elgar was rolling along fine this day just fine. Until bad luck gatecrashed his party. It was a delivery that was angling down leg, just right for his tuck to the on side but somehow, the ball popped off the body to his arm, then rebound back to the stumps. He could just watch in dismay. As he would do in the second session as England roared back into the game.
Matthew Potts took out the talented Keagan Peterson with a lovely away-shaper that took the edge. Jack Leach got one to loop and dip on Aidan Markram who poked lamely at it for a catch to the keeper. The left-handed opener Sarel Erwee, who had got to a fine 73 on his first appearance at Lord’s, was shocked by a brute of a bouncer from the bouncer-happy Ben Stokes, gloving a simple catch to Ben Foakes.
But what a comeback story its been for Erwee in recent times. Couple of years ago, he had nearly quit the game after getting depressed over selection issues. “When I sat down with my family, with my parents, they picked me up. I saw a sports psychologist. We worked through it daily. It was a hard slog to try and get motivated again; to give my best after wanting to give up. All the years of hard work, all the hard slogging I had to do at semi-professional level and franchise level felt pointless and worthless at one stage. I am very fortunate to have worked with a sports psychologist and to have the support of my parents,” he has said in the past. “As a man, it’s frowned upon to show mental weakness or softness. There’s a lot of work still to be done. I’m in that process every day, every week, every month, where I am trying to better my mental health and wellbeing. It’s a big part of my life and probably will be for a long time.” Something for everyone to ponder there but at his debut at Lord’s he oozed solidity until Stokes shook him up.
Rassie van der Dussen was taken out by a nip-backer that Stokes often slips in and suddenly South Africa were wobbling at 210 for 6 from 85 for no loss.
But England would make the same mistake they had committed against India in the Test series. Resorting to bowling short at the lower order and in a London minute, South Africa had slipped away from their hands. Marco Jansen (41*) and Keshav Maharaj (41) added 72 runs, after showing no discomfort through the bumper phase that helped them to settle down.
England were bowled out for 165 in the morning, having resumed at the start of the second day on 116 for six. Only 32 overs of play were possible on the first day due to rain.
The wonderful pacer Kagiso Rabada would have a moment to roar after yet another five-for (5-52). Rabada removed innings top-scorer Ollie Pope (73) who dragged the away-shaper from well outside off on to his stumps. His fifth victim was James Anderson who was trapped lbw. But Rabada, and then Erwee and the lower-order jugalbandi from Jansen and Maharaj have pushed South Africa ahead.