England put South Africa in a spin

Barring a collapse of awful proportions or a most extraordinary rally by the South African batsmen in the fourth innings, England should complete a well-deserved victory sometimetomorrow.

Keaton Jennings on his way to 33 in the evening sunshine at Lords in Englands second innings.  Photograph: Matt Dunham/AP
Keaton Jennings on his way to 33 in the evening sunshine at Lords in Englands second innings. Photograph: Matt Dunham/AP

They are 216 ahead with nine wickets remaining and the pitch is much drier than a usual third day track at Lord’s. It is spinning already, occasionally sharply, and any lead in excess of 350 would be very difficult to chase.

Courtesy of a healthy first-innings supremacy of 97 and a decent opening partnership of 80 in the evening sunshine between Alastair Cook and Keaton Jennings, England should be planning on a much stiffer declaration than that.

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They will aim for 400 or thereabouts and plan to declare midway though the second session today.

That will leave them four and a half sessions and the option of two new balls to take the ten wickets.

The weather is set fair so that should be enough time and with two spinners in Moeen Ali and Liam Dawson, South Africa will be under pressure to survive.

The hope must be the captain himself would not be needed to turn his arm over but Joe Root, if needs must, is one of those cricketers that just makes things happen.

He has enjoyed some match, his first as captain, but so has Moeen.

The depth that Moeen offers the batting line up is crucial in the modern game but it was his bowling on Friday and yesterday that really showed his importance to the team.

He started his Test career as a bowler as an afterthought. The ball was thrown to him almost as a gesture. No longer. He is a threat with a very good stock ball, a turning off spinner. With experience has come greater control and he was worth his four wickets in the first innings.

It was important when he finished the innings though by dismissing Vernon Philander, as – much like the England first innings – the tail wagged productively.

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England should have forged a lead nearer to 150 but Philander is a competitive beast and eked crucial runs for his team. It came at a cost though as he suffered several blows to the hands.

James Anderson struck him early and despite he battling and swinging hard at the ball he was unable to take the field when England commenced their second innings.

It was later confirmed as bruising and not a series-threatening fracture. South Africa have been a tad unlucky during the match. Kasigo Rabada has received a ban for swearing, Philander an injury and that’s added to the loss of the toss on Thursday.

What is not bad luck is their appalling use of reviews. Two yesterday, both against Cook, were ill-considered and wasteful. As the use of reviews has become the norm, some teams have become very adept at using them.

It involves fielders square of the wicket to judge height of bounce and the keeper to judge line. South Africa need to improve at this and quickly.

So England need to bat sensibly for the first hour and then accelerate the run rate as South Africa tire and the ball ages. They have the firepower and will benefit from the freedom their dominance affords them.

In some ways it has turned into an old fashioned Test match. The lack of rain this summer may have caused groundsmen problems but the tweakers across the country are thrilled. So should the fans be. Moeen and Liam Dawson claimed six wickets in the first innings.

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Successful twirlers in England are a rarity so a Test match involving them so early should be celebrated.

Especially if they take England to victory, as they should, over the rest of this match.