LONDON – Stung by criticism of their overly aggressive batting at Trent Bridge in the second Test, England’s batsmen showed greater application on the first morning of the third Test after Joe Root chose to bat first on Thursday.
When lunch was take 14 minutes earlier than scheduled due to rain, the hosts had moved to 62/1 off 22.1 overs, with Alastair Cook on 34 and Tom Westley, one of three debutants for the home team, on 24.
Most of the morning’s play occurred under cloudy skies, and though the pitch hand a fair covering of grass – as is usually the case in England – the pace was slow.
In fact, the groundsman said beforehand that there was a lot more moisture below the surface than usual, and in the bowlers’ follow-through, dark patches became apparent very early on.
Proteas captain Faf du Plessis admitted that he was unsure what to do before the toss and wasn’t overly concerned about bowling first, feeling that his seamers – which included Kagiso Rabada, who was in for Duanne Olivier after being suspended from the second Test – could utilise the bowler-friendly conditions.
He may have gone to lunch slightly disappointed then, for the South Africans appeared caught between wanting to hit the deck hard and being unable to control what swing there was later in the session as some of the shine was knocked off the ball.
Not unsurprisingly, South Africa’s best bowler was Vernon Philander, who once more left England’s left-handed opener Keaton Jennings in a horrible mess.
He seamed the ball one way and then another before finding the outside edge of Jennings’ bat, with Dean Elgar taking a well-judged catch diving forward at third slip.
It’s the third time in the series Philander’s dismissed Jennings, and the technical faults he has – which leave him searching for the ball – are being picked apart, but it also speaks to the accuracy that is such a hallmark of Philander’s bowling.
The rest of the Proteas bowlers failed to show the kind of consistency Philander did. Morné Morkel’s length was too short, allowing Cook and Westley to duck and leave, and when he corrected his line, he was easily clipped off the hips by both batsmen.
Rabada, too, while quick, struggled with his line and despite getting the ball to swing, he was never a persistent enough threat to the batsmen.
The odd ball did beat the outside edge, but Du Plessis will demand more consistency from his quick men.
Westley played solidly in making 24 – 20 of those runs coming in boundaries – but the South Africans will feel they need to make him play more.
Westley, playing in place of the injured Gary Ballance, is one of three debutants along with Toby Roland-Jones, in for Mark Wood (bruised heel), and Dawid Malan, who replaced Liam Dawson.
Malan, who was born in Roehampton but went to school in Paarl, will strengthen the home side’s batting, but it will demand that Moeen Ali plays as the front-line spinner, something according to England’s coach Trevor Bayliss that he is reluctant to be viewed as.
The current Test is the 100th at this ground, making it the fourth venue after the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the Sydney Cricket Ground and Lord’s to host that many Test matches.