South Africa 289-7; England 165 all out: Ben Stokes and Jack Leach combined to stifle South Africa but a late flurry of runs left the tourists in control following Kagiso Rabada’s five-wicket haul

Ben Stokes leads England fightback after South Africa take control of first Test

Ben Stokes celebrates taking the wicket of Rassie van der Dussen (Action Images via Reuters)

England had lost every session of this Test match convincingly up to tea on day two and were meandering towards an enormous first innings deficit, when the unlikely duo of Ben Stokes and Jack Leach – where have we heard that before? – conjured a spell of fierce bounce and genuine spin to disrupt South Africa’s momentum.

The tourists still hold a commanding 124-run lead after reaching stumps on 289-7, boosted by a late flurry of runs from bowlers Keshav Maharaj and Marco Jansen, having toppled their hosts earlier in the day for only 165 led by Kagiso Rabada’s five-wicket haul. Yet as the sun began to dip behind the Main Stand, the home supporters would have left a humming Lord’s with some small cheer having watched their captain lead the kind of fightback that has become a familiar part of England’s weird and wonderful summer.

England’s success under Brendon McCullum thus far has relied on subverting convention and here again they needed something a little different. James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Matthew Potts had bowled well in patches but South Africa were scoring too easily as the afternoon wore on, reaching tea in total control on 158-2. The left-arm spin of Leach might not normally have been the answer on day two of a Test match at Lord’s, but he found instant rip off the surface and spun a beauty which feathered the edge of Aiden Markram’s bat en route to Ben Foakes’s gloves to change the mood.

From the other end Stokes started crashing short balls into the pitch, and he finally dislodged the seemingly unflusterable opener Seral Erwee on 73 with a bouncer which arrowed at the batsman’s jaw; Erwee fended the ball with his gloves and sent it into orbit to give keeper Ben Foakes a simple catch. A couple of overs later Stokes was celebrating again after trapping Rassie van der Dussen, who reviewed to no avail and got a word in the ear from Joe Root on his way to the pavilion for wasting everyone’s time. Broad had been the least effective of England’s bowling attack so there was added satisfaction when he located the thinnest edge of Kyle Verreynne’s bat late in the day, before Maharaj fell to Stokes.

England might wonder what could have been. Perhaps had Stokes won the toss it would have been his side racking up runs on day two after taking advantage of Wednesday’s inviting bowling conditions. Perhaps had Ollie Pope not been unfortunate in dragging an inside edge on to his own stumps in the third over the morning, he may have gone on to get a crucial century. Instead he was gone for 73 and England’s tail was exposed.

But it still took plenty of South African skill to take the wickets that killed off England’s innings. Rabada got one to straighten to Pope following a flurry of away swingers and then conned Broad for 15 with a slower ball which he chipped cheaply to point. Leach’s off-stump was sent cartwheeling by Jansen, and Rabada finished England off in the next over and sealed his five-for when he trapped James Anderson lbw for a golden duck. With figures of 5-52, Rabada led South Africa back to the Pavilion and raised the ball aloft, to polite applause.

Ben Stokes leads England fightback after South Africa take control of first Test

Kagiso Rabada struck two early blows (Adam Davy/PA)

(PA Wire)

South Africa’s innings began with the familiar sight of Anderson, now 40, running in from the Pavilion End. He bowled predominantly over the wicket to the left-handed opening partnership of captain Dean Elgar and Erwee, who employed some notably anti-Bazball leaves to see off the new ball, while Broad struggled to triangulate his angles coming around the wicket from the Nursery End. First change bowler Potts came closest to a wicket before lunch, bringing a top edge from Elgar’s bat which Zak Crawley got fingertips to but no firm grasp, as South Africa cruised in the sun.

With the openers settled and Elgar on the brink of a half century, Anderson finally made the breakthrough in fortunate circumstances as the ball rattled around the South Africa captain, hitting arm and leg before finally bumping the stumps and removing the bails. Keegan Petersen built a new partnership with Erwee until Potts tempted him into a flail outside off-stump which flew into the grasp of Pope at fourth slip before tea, and soon after Leach and Stokes stepped in to really loosen South Africa’s grip.

But in the final overs Jansen and Maharaj enjoyed themselves to increase South Africa’s cushion – Jansen hit a monstrous six off Stokes as the light faded before Maharaj was caught in the deep – and Rabada will join Jansen at the crease on Friday morning hoping to accelerate further into the distance on what is forecast to be another benign sunny day.

England will take heart from what they have achieved already this summer, not least the fact they scored fewer first-innings runs against New Zealand at Lord’s in June, and still won the game. This might need to be their most impressive magic trick yet but Stokes and Leach have at least given them hope, and that is all this team seems to need right now.

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