England 116 for 6 (Pope 61*, Nortje 4-43) vs South Africa
Dean Elgar cited the “overheads” for his decision to ask England to make the running with the bat for the first time this summer (all four of the Tests won under Ben Stokes’ captaincy have been based on a template of chasing a target in the fourth innings), and his seam attack responded with the perfect blend of skill and aggression in cloudy, humid conditions.
England’s most-productive stand was 45 added for the fifth wicket between Pope and Stokes, the only two batters to get into double-figures. Both openers fell cheaply, and there was little of the buccaneering intent that brought four successive victories at the start of Stokes’ tenure as captain. Joe Root was lbw for 8, a marginal decision backed up by DRS in the impressive Marco Jansen’s second over, and Jonny Bairstow lost his middle stump to Nortje as England slumped to 55 for 4.
South Africa, buoyed by winning the toss, could call on Rabada as their attack leader after he “pulled up 100%” following an ankle ligament injury, and he was on the mark from the outset. Alex Lees got away with one ambitious swipe that flew over the slip cordon but fell in the same over, wafting away from his body to be caught behind.
Zak Crawley, retained as Lees’ opening partner despite averaging 17.75 from four previous Tests this summer, did his best to negotiate a thorough examination around off stump, largely packing away his aggressive strokes. But having squirted a thick outside edge through gully for a second boundary, he was undone by Rabada’s wobble-seam delivery, which produced just enough movement to find the edge and present a low catch to the cordon.
South Africa lost a review when asking for a second look at Lungi Ngidi’s lbw appeal against Pope, but things continued to go their way when Jansen struck from the Pavilion End, where he regularly used the slope to bring the ball back in to England’s right-handers. Having declined another lbw shout that ball-tracking showed would have just clipped the top of Pope’s leg stump, Nitin Menon raised his finger in the affirmative to the politest of appeals against Root. The former Test captain reviewed, but in vain.
Root has actually been usurped as England’s most in-form Test batter, with Bairstow coming into the series on the back of a stellar run against New Zealand and India. But following four hundreds in five innings, he notched the 16th duck – and the 38th dismissal bowled – of his Test career, as Nortje brought one back through the gate to make a mess of the wordwork.
England had only scored four boundaries during the first hour, but Pope took Nortje for back-to-back fours and, although he survived some close moments against Jansen’s left-arm inswing, played punchily through the morning to bring up a 69-ball fifty.
Stokes did produce a familiar charge at his sixth ball, swiping and missing at Jansen, and flirted with danger while also finding the boundary four times. Pope, too, was fortunate when an edge off Nortje evaded the diving Keegan Petersen at third slip in the final over before lunch. But Nortje finished a strong morning showing for South Africa by jagging one away to find Stokes’ outside edge and end a minor recovery.
Nortje picked up his third shortly after the break but, with the floodlights on amid heavy cloud cover at Lord’s, England No. 8 Stuart Broad only had to face two balls before the umpires took the players off. Rain came steadily before turning torrential, an early tea followed by the abandonment of play at 4.30pm.
Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick