LONDON – While he may be away from official daddy duty for the next month, South African Test skipper Faf du Plessis arrived in London to find that he may still be changing proverbial nappies on this side of the pond.
Dean Elgar took off the armband and gleefully handed it over to Du Plessis at the post-match presser, and he had the look of a man who had baby-sat a screaming child for a bit longer than anticipated.
“He can have it back!” Elgar said of the responsibility of leading the side through what appears to be increasingly deep and dark waters.
The latest capitulation made history – for all the wrong reasons.
It was a first loss at Lord’s since readmission, ending a run of five trips of joy in the capital.
Du Plessis will have his hands full this week, trying to cajole the troops ahead of the second Test in Nottingham. This is new territory for a South African cricketer, walking away from Lord’s as a loser.
All who have come before them have sauntered off down Abbey Road with a spring in the step, launching into the rest of the series with confidence bolstered.
Lord’s has seen England captains wilt into oblivion, bruised by the battering ram from the land of biltong. Now, England are the ones in good cheer, sensing a fragility in the opposition that has not often been seen in these parts.
Already, there are questions of a possible clean sweep, though the England captain warned that one shouldn’t look too far ahead.
The pitch at Lord’s certainly assisted a balanced England attack ably led by Moeen Ali, whose off-spin saw him garner a 10-wicket haul, the man of the match, and a cap wave to a most appreciative crowd at the end of it all.
If the Proteas had banked on Messrs Anderson and Broad giving them the biggest headaches of the summer, they ought to factor in Ali and his simple recipe – especially in a summer that has sizzled playing surfaces to the point where they start ripping far earlier than usual.
South Africa will look back on the past four days and think how it could have been very different if they had done the basics that the game demands as a matter of course.
“Those are non-negotiables,” Elgar said of his team’s shortcomings.
No-balls and dropped catches are costly on any day of the week, but giving both gifts to an England captain on his first day of office – at Lord’s, nogal – is as generous as it gets.
“It’s a great start, and the way the team responded was brilliant,” Joe Root croaked, his bout of flu still not quite shaken off.
You wonder what damage he could inflict when he gets a clean bill of health. “There were crucial periods where all the guys showed real character,” Root said of his team’s display.
At some point, every single English player produced a passage of play that lifted the collective, tilted the matter towards the home dressing-room.
Regrettably, the South Africans have their own list, but the lights are a bit dimmer upon that reflection.
There were too many moments that took the tourists the other way, making a tough task unbearable and allowing England and their jolly following to make merry.
Du Plessis’ first task will be to make sure that he wipes away any lingering feelings from this defeat, and try to change the outlook on what has been a stinky old time in Blighty.
That is no task for small men.