England in a spot of bother at Trent Bridge

South Africas Chris Morris celebrates taking the wicket of Englands Mark Wood.  Photograph: Anthony Devlin/Getty Images
South Africas Chris Morris celebrates taking the wicket of Englands Mark Wood. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/Getty Images
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The bowlers are in charge and it has made for a compelling Test match.

What a wonderful ground Trent Bridge is. The batsmen have to earn their scores and the bowlers are always given a chance. South Africa won the toss, batted reasonably well but bowled superbly.

That is why they are in charge and should win this match and deservedly so. They are 205 ahead with nine wickets remaining and in complete control. Any target in excess of 300 should be hard to chase and South Africa with three days remaining will be planning on a lead of much more.

The past two days used to be called an even contest, bat versus ball, the very basis of Test match cricket but over time with the demands of broadcasters and accountants it became imperative for a match to last the full duration regardless of result or quality.

Not in Nottingham. The pitch is wearing with occasional bounce. The ground, for reasons some physicist could possibly explain always offers swing and the batsmen have to play with more caution than any other ground in England.

Some can and some cannot. The difference thus far between the sides in this match has been the seam bowling. England on day one were too short. It was surprising as James Anderson and Stuart Broad have been very successful at the ground.

However, they dragged slightly too short and the South African batsmen were given that split second more time to adjust to the vagaries of each delivery. In direct contrast both Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander pitched about one yard fuller and reaped great reward. No batsman, even Joe Root in spells, was comfortable.

Philander was frankly superb. He is a nagging sort laced with aggression. Chunky, strong through the shoulders and determined, he pounded the ball into the wicket at a good length and let the ball move. It was a similar spell to Broad’s amazing seven-wicket spell against Australia two years ago. On that occasion the ball was edged, almost to command. On this it was missed. The bowling was the same, the outcome different but that should not detract from the effort.

Morkel was a wonderful partner. Tall, aggressive and accurate he delivered a majestic spell of bowling after lunch in cahoots with Philander. Between them they took five wickets. It was a travesty. Both deserved more, much more, but cricket is a team game and their efforts benefited Chris Morris and the left arm spinner Keshav Maharaj.

They collectively dismissed England for 205. Root scored 78 of those, so just like Lord’s he was responsible for the bulk of England’s runs.

This is a major concern. The top three looks weak. Keaton Jennings is the young buck on parade and should be buttressed by a couple of experienced hands full of experience and runs. He opens with Alastair Cook but with Gary Ballance, a man for whom the last chance saloon has remained open too long, at three there is a fragility to the batting that is too easily exposed. At the other end it is also weak. Moeen Ali bats at seven but then it is Liam Dawson and the bowlers. The runs must come from four, five, six and seven and no side has been successful when so reliant on that.

England must bat a lot better and a lot deeper if they are to become a consistently successful side.

Starting today though they need wickets, quickly and a decent rearguard action from all else it is 1-1 in the series and game on for the final two Test matches.