LONDON - South Africa enjoyed a hearty lunch following a fine opening session of the first Test against England at Lord's on Thursday, reducing the home team to 82/4.
The new England captain Joe Root won the toss and chose to bat on what looked a well grassed pitch Thursday morning, acknowledging it would be challenging for his batsmen in the first session.
Just how challenging became apparent in just the fourth over, when Root’s predecessor as skipper, Alastair Cook, who’s been in outstanding form for Essex in the County Championship, fiddled at a ball from Vernon Philander which left him down the famous slope providing Quinton de Kock with an easy catch.
With the exception of three no balls Philander’s spell from the Pavilion End was delightful as he troubled England’s top order - all left handers - with the deliveries that nibbled this way and that off the surface.
However there was some good fortune about the dismissal of Keaton Jennings in Philander’s third over with umpire Sundaram Ravi adjudging him lbw, although replays indicated the ball had pitched outside leg stump and was missing the stump too. Jennings consulted Gary Ballance about reviewing but the Yorkshireman advised otherwise sending Jennings on his way for 8.
Root received a rousing welcome from the Lord’s crowd and in combination with Ballance - a selection Root played a big part in making - set about trying to restore some order. The England skipper had two slices of luck come his way, both off the bowling of Kagiso Rabada.
The first on five, saw Root sky an attempted hook down to fine leg, where Aiden Markram on as a substitute for Philander, misjudged the flight of the ball, which flew over his out-stretched right hand and bounced inside the rope.
The next chance should have been taken when Root drove loosely to gully, but JP Duminy saw the ball explode through his hands. Root was on 16 at the time.
The third wicket eventually went to Morkel, but it was Ballance who was trapped plumb lbw for 20 - this time Root encouraged his teammate to review, but it was another poor decision.
Jonny Bairstow added 27 with Root for the fourth wicket before Philander returned from the Nursery End, and got one to slant up the sloped hitting Bairstow on the back leg in front of leg stump.
Philander had come into the match with concerns about his fitness, but has looked very good in the nets this week, and went to lunch with figures of 3/26 from eight overs. At the interval Root was 33 and Ben Stokes, South Africa’s nemesis in the 2015/16 series on 4.
South Africa stuck with the option of four frontline bowlers and seven batsmen, choosing Theunis de Bruyn to start instead of Chris Morris, something stand-in skipper Dean Elgar admitted on the eve of the match they’d been contemplating.