What a fantastic day. It was test cricket as it should be: movement early on, changes in overhead conditions, quality bowling, brilliant batting, an even contest, and real tension. It made a really refreshing change after a summer of white ball mayhem.
The afternoon session was possibly the most engrossing cricket of the summer. Anderson and Broad, two experienced and skilful bowlers who were pretty much on the money throughout, ran in hard and threw everything at Amla and de Kock.
The two South Africans, both of whom are world class, weathered the storm expertly. Sure they needed some luck at times, but who doesn’t at Trent Bridge in overcast conditions? They survived this examination of technique and even began to prosper at one point. It was good old fashioned test cricket … the best form of the game by bloody miles.
When South Africa reached 179-2 at tea, a big score was in the offing. But England bit back superbly in the next hour, removing de Kock, du Plessis, Amla and Bavuma. Because the ball had moved around all day, I was convinced that England could wrap up the innings on the first day for a score of about 280.
But then came Philander and Morris. The irksome all-rounders.
Just when we thought England were going to roll the opposition over and establish a good position, South Africa’s resilient lower-middle order dug in. Philander was stoic; Morris was obdurate. Both restrained their attacking instincts and played the situation brilliantly. And then, when the sun finally popped out in the final hour, England’s bowlers tired and stroke-making became far easier.
The pick of the England attack was probably Stuart Broad, who picked up 3-47 on what must be his favourite ground. Jimmy Anderson, who also has a phenomenal record at Trent Bridge, bowled pretty well but only picked up the one wicket. Meanwhile, Ben Stokes put in a good shift and was unlucky not to pick up more than two wickets.
I’d wager that South Africa’s 309-6 is a good effort on this pitch. If they can get near 400 or, heaven forbid, a total approaching 450, then England might be in real trouble – especially as the weather is likely to remain overcast for the next few days.
Obviously we can’t put a first innings total in context until both teams have batted. However, I think Amla and de Kock in particular made batting look a tad easier than it really was. There was movement both in the air and off the pitch for the seam bowlers most of the day. It was only when the sun came out, at around 5.45pm, that batting looked relatively straight forward.
On positive side, the pitch does look quite slow. A number of edges fell agonisingly short slip – including a genuine edge off the last ball of the day – so it’s likely that South Africa’s bowlers will have to generate more false shots than normal to collect twenty wickets.
And, of course, you can never tell what the English weather will do. If the sun does unexpectedly come out on Sunday (I imagine lots of Saturday’s play might be lost to rain) then batting conditions might be ok after all.