First Test v South Africa 2017

Fans of international red-ball cricket have had to wait until July to see their first action of the summer (the latest start since 1983), and the arrival of the South Africans brought with it a history of England captains stepping down. But it was all change at Lord’s as England lined up with a new man in charge, their 80th captain: Joe Root.

England’s selectors had a few decisions to make. At the top of the order, there was the question of who should bat with Alastair Cook. Haseeb Hameed’s poor summer counted him out of a recall, so it was Keaton Jennings who retained his place from the India tour. Mark Stoneman has been in fine form for Surrey, but the decision went in favour of Gary Ballance, who has also been in excellent touch at Yorkshire, and he took the No 3 spot. Root, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali were automatic selections in the middle order, as were Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, both of whom had recovered from some injury issues.

There was no such luck for Chris Woakes, so it came down to a straight shoot-out between Toby Roland-Jones and Mark Wood for the third seamer’s role, and the Durham man got the nod – his extra, skiddy pace helping him make the cut. With other injuries among the pace men, and a dry pitch, there was room for a second spinner in the team, and again Liam Dawson and Adil Rashid were the men in situ, and the less-experienced Dawson got the nod.

For South Africa, captain Faf du Plessis was absent for the birth of his baby, leaving Dean Elgar to skipper the side. Heino Kuhn of the Titans unsurprisingly was selected for his debut to open alongside the stand-in skipper, having made 200 not out and 105 during his tour with South Africa A earlier in the summer. Aged 33 and with a career average in the mid-40s, this was a case of backing experience. The opening pair were supported by regulars Hashim Amla, J-P  Duminy and Temba Bavuma. Theunis de Bruyn, who made his debut against New Zealand in March, joined Knights last season, and the 24-year-old is another with a career average in the mid-40s. He was slated to go in at six.

With Quinton de Kock a hugely talented wicketkeeper-batsman at No 7, South Africa went with a four-man bowling attack, with Morne Morel, Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada providing the pace, and Keshav Maharaj as the slow left-armer. All-rounder Chris Morris could perhaps count himself unlucky to miss out.

Root struck lucky with the toss, and chose to bat, but England soon found themselves in trouble on the first morning, losing four wickets for 82 by lunch, with Philander proving the most successful of the South African attack, picking up three wickets. Ballance was among them, out for 20, trapped in front, and the mode of his dismissal, caught deep in his crease, highlighted the concerns many have noted about his technique. Fortunately, Root was still there and he would soon make the opposition pay for missed chances. With Stokes he added 114 for the fifth wicket as England batted through the afternoon session without loss.

Although Stokes was out soon after for 56, Moeen came in and began to score freely. Root was dominant now, and he went past three figures and continued on. He was then stumped off a no-ball, before passing 150 and by the close of the first day he had reached 184, having scored 105 runs in the last session. By then, England were 375 for five, and Moeen was unbeaten on 61. Root was the sixth England captain to make a century on debut as captain, and he also became the quickest to score 1000 runs at Lord’s, having reached the landmark in 17 innings – two fewer than Andrew Strauss. As first days go, it was pretty much perfect.

Sadly, the second day did not go as well for him. He was out early on for 190. Moeen passed 2000 Test runs before falling for 87, and then some late-order hitting from Broad took England up to a formidable 458. Broad’s 57 was his first half-century for England since July 2013, 66 innings previously. Already the pitch was beginning to offer something for the spinners, and it was clear that the advantage of batting first was going to be a significant one.

Kuhn soon edged behind, making just 1, before Elgar and Amla put on 72 for the second wicket, sparking another little flurry that saw South Africa slip to 104 for four. By then, Moeen had picked up the two wickets he needed to complete the Test double of 2000 runs and 100 wickets. He was the seventh England player to achieve this feat, and only Tony Greig (37) had done it quicker for England than Moeen in his 38 Tests. Shakib al Hasan holds the record – 31 Tests.

South Africa finished the day on 214 for five, but knew they would need a big innings from someone to ensure they got close to England’s total. But Bavuma (59) was later joined by de Kock (51) and Philander (52) in following Elgar (54) and de Bruyn (48) and getting out when well set. So it was that South Africa were dismissed for 361, a deficit of 97 – it could have been much worse, but it was still a hefty advantage to the hosts.

By the end of day three, England had progressed to 119 for one after 51 overs. It was slow going, but Cook (59 not out), Jennings (33) and Ballance (22 not out) had slowly squeezed the match beyond their opponents. Just how valuable those runs would prove to be was shown on the fourth morning, when England wickets fell in a flurry. It could have been even worse had not Philander dropped the easiest of chances in the deep off Bairstow. At 182 for eight, England may have feared they were letting South Africa back into the match, but the deteriorating pitch said otherwise.

Bairstow was last out, for 51, as England were all out for 233, leaving a target of 331 – South Africa would have to achieve the second highest ever successful run chase at Lord’s to win the match, but any hope of doing so was soon swept away. It was Moeen who did the real damage, starting with a superb caught and bowled. He finished with figures of six for 53 to give him match analysis of ten for 112, his best in Test cricket. He became only the sixth England player to take ten wickets and score a fifty in a match, and the first since Ian Botham. All out for 119, South Africa were beaten by 211 runs after a rather feeble effort. In total, 19 wickets had fallen on the fourth day.

South Africa will have to make at least two changes for the second Test later in the week at Trent Bridge, as not only will du Plessis return, but Rabada has been banned for one game for an accumulation of disciplinary offences. The final one – swearing at Stokes – may seem trivial, but with stump mikes regularly picking up bad language, one hopes that all players will keep an eye on exactly how they behave.

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