LONDON – Since the second morning, South Africa have been forced into a sort of damage-limitation exercise in this opening Test match against England at Lord’s.
So poor were they in the field in the second half of day one and so harmful were their errors on Thursday that for the last couple of days, they’ve been trying to atone and just hang on.
This is a good England team however, which is being led well for the first time by Joe Root, who’s been creative with field-placings and bowling changes.
They’ve also made far fewer mistakes than the South Africans.
Twice with the ball they made timely breakthroughs in the Proteas’ first innings – Theunis de Bruyn was dismissed 10 minutes before stumps on day two and on Saturday, James Anderson, with a helping hand from Ben Stokes, got rid of Quinton de Kock five minutes before lunch.
On both occasions South Africa had just asserted themselves, De Bruyn in partnership with Temba Bavuma and De Kock had done so by himself with an aggressive half-century.
Had De Kock still been batting at lunch, there may have been a few sweaty palms in the England dressing room.
And sure, you could question De Kock’s judgement in going as hard as he did at Anderson and providing Stokes with the opportunity, but his attacking method had worked until then and the shot did seem to be on.
He struck 10 fours in his 51, taking a particular liking to Stuart Broad.
De Kock’s was one of four half-centuries on the South African scorecard of 361 – one of those should have been turned into a hundred like Root did for the home team.
Of course England haven’t committed as many mistakes as the Proteas, getting wickets off no-balls and missing catches, while in Moeen Ali they had a spinner who got on top of the opposition batsmen early and troubled all of them.
On day one Keshav Maharaj struggled, but he was much better on Saturday, helped by a pitch that is reminiscent of something you’d expect to find on the sub-continent.
It’s very dry, as is apparent when the ground staff clean the bowlers’ footmarks and dust envelopes them.
In one amazing incident, Maharaj got one delivery to spin from outside the off-stump across Alastair Cook and beat the leg-stump – De Kock doing very well to make a tricky situation look so simple with a neat take behind the stumps.
The Proteas found themselves a bowler short when England started their second innings, with Philander heading to hospital for X-rays on his right hand which had been hit by Anderson after a delivery spat off a crack.
Fortunately for Philander and the Proteas no fracture was detected, and he spent the first hour after tea icing the hand. He returned to the field late in the day and is expected to bowl on Sunday morning.
His side need him. They are 219 runs behind England, who finished the day on 119/1 (Cook 59 not out, Gary Ballance 22 not out), on a pitch with uneven bounce and where the ball is spinning appreciably.
England scored at just over two runs an over, in stark contrast the four runs an over with which they batted in their first dig. It’s tough going for batsmen.
South Africa have shown outstanding fighting qualities over the last year. One of their most valuable attributes is their resilience, and they’ll need to display plenty of that over the next couple of days if they are to avoid defeat.