South Africa blow England's top order away with pace and guile at Lord's

·27-min read
England v South Africa 2022 live score latest updates Lord's - Action Images via Reuters/Peter Cziborra
England v South Africa 2022 live score latest updates Lord's - Action Images via Reuters/Peter Cziborra

Dean Elgar’s bowlers proved it was more than just mind games when he warned he had the tools to take down England’s new approach as South Africa dominated the opening day of the series.

England are in a hole at 116 for six, the optimism of the early summer replaced with the pragmatism of facing a well-equipped South African four-man pace attack in difficult batting conditions.

Skill, speed, aggression and accuracy - South Africa have it all as well as the uncomfortable variation of a 6ft 8ins left-armer, Marco Jansen, who claimed the gilded wicket of Joe Root for eight.

The country has been crying out for rain for weeks and it arrived at the right time to save England from a complete day one mauling. Play was called off at 4.30 after prolonged, heavy downpours. The sight of England time wasting as they looked to the skies and knew it was about to chuck it down showed where the power lay after just one full session.

Many opponents are waiting for England to fall flat on their faces after the flying start of the new regime but this was not a methodical deconstruction of their new ways. It would be wrong to blame gung ho batting.

Yes they were on the front foot, scoring at just under four an over and Alex Lees and Jonny Bairstow were out showing aggression, but mainly this was outstanding Test match bowling; the kind of examination the Hundred (or championship cricket) does not prepare an English batsman to survive.

Anrich Nortje of South Africa bowls out Jonny Bairstow of England during the first LV - Getty Images
Anrich Nortje of South Africa bowls out Jonny Bairstow of England during the first LV - Getty Images

It left England relying on Ollie Pope, who played his best innings at no 3 so far to be 61 not out, to eke out a few more with the tail and hope South Africa’s inexperienced batting struggles as much on a juicy pitch with more pace and carry than has been seen at Lord’s for a while.

Kagiso Rabada was outstanding with the new ball mixing skill with a nasty bouncer for two for 36, Jansen was awkward and gave little away and it was just a constant examination with no let up. Anrich Nortje’s 90mph pace and bounce as second change pressed the advantage, his three for 43 including the big ones of Jonny Bairstow and Stokes as well as the final wicket of Ben Foakes.

England dislike the term Bazball, South Africa have banned the use of the word in their dressing room, and coach Mark Boucher warned any journalist using it in a press conference would have to down a tequila. But England have talked up their positivity and believe they are changing Test cricket so they cannot complain too much about labels and hype.

Elgar said in a punchy interview before the series started that had New Zealand and India taken their chances, England’s revolution would not have been quite so special. They would have had “egg on their faces” he said. At Lord’s it is more like egg and bacon on faces but the point stood - against good bowling you need a rock solid defence and a bit of luck.

South Africa's Kagiso Rabada celebrates after taking the wicket - Reuters
South Africa's Kagiso Rabada celebrates after taking the wicket - Reuters

Lees owed four of his five runs to a flashy edge over second slip and another waft cost him his wicket. Lees was tighter in his first couple of Tests, too much so and had to expand to fit in under Stokes, but with minimal foot movement he is always going to be exposed by quicker, better bowlers who leave less margin for error and in Rabada he was facing a man with 41 wickets at 17 in his previous eight Tests.

Zak Crawley tried to be circumspect. There were no big drives. He recognised the importance of staying in, of surviving the first hour. But he just is not a Test opener. He does not have the defensive game for difficult conditions. It was no surprise when he was squared up and nicked to second slip for nine, another failure adding to the pressure on his shoulders.

Root was unlucky to be given leg before to Jansen, the ball going down the slope from the left-armer and only clipping the top of leg stump according to ball tracking but Bairstow had no such complaints. In the form of his life, Bairstow has been the outstanding player of the summer, even eclipsing Root.

England's Joe Root is bowled for LBW off the bowling of South Africa's Marco Jansen during the first day of the test match - AP
England's Joe Root is bowled for LBW off the bowling of South Africa's Marco Jansen during the first day of the test match - AP

Between them they have scored seven of England’s eight hundreds and it was not all crash bang wallop from Bairstow either, who had to bat with restraint and patience against India and New Zealand at Headingley, giving the bowlers the respect due to them when on top.

Bairstow skipped the Hundred to rest for this series, encouragingly putting Test cricket above the ECB’s commercial considerations, but even though it was a good ball from Nortje that swung at 93mph, making it the quickest delivery this year to take a wicket, Bairstow did not give himself much chance with a flat-footed big drive and massive gap between bat and pad.

Stokes and Pope moved along quickly to add 45, and were batting nicely as they counter-punched. Stokes skipped down the pitch to his sixth ball from Jansen, wafting and missing, as he tried to impose and hit four fours but was squared up in the final over of the morning, edging Nortje to slip. The ball was a beauty that needed to be played and moved enough to find the outside edge.

Pope was proactive, looking busy at all times but was controlled too. His century at Trent Bridge sealed his promotion to no 3 but he relied heavily on Root at the other end to coax him through tough spells in that innings. This time batted in his own bubble and that was encouraging on a difficult day. Ben Foakes was bowled off an inside edge moments before it rained and never let up - the weather reflecting the relentlessness of South Africa's bowling.

England v South Africa first Test, day one: as it happened

04:35 PM

Play has been abandoned for the day

There was not much point in prolonging the inevitable as the rain hadn't relented for more than 90 minutes nor shows any sign of doing so.

04:31 PM

An announcement must be imminent

It's raining so hard the TVs in here are not receiving a viable signal.

03:49 PM

The Met Office forecast

Is for thundery showers to persist with a 70 per cent chance of rain continuing until 7pm when it should ease. Tomorrow's early showers which were threatening a full day's play in initial bulletins, have now receded to a 10 per cent prospect before a sunny afternoon.

03:39 PM

It is still absolutely siling down

I am afraid to report. The rain is cascading down the windows at the back of the media centre.

03:25 PM

Tea-time listening

The latest guest on the Vaughany and Tuffers Cricket Club podcast is Sir Geoffrey Boycott. As you would imagine, entertainment and forthrightness are assured. Treat yourself:

03:20 PM

The players are taking tea

For what it's worth, as it continues to rain and there won't be any chance of a resumption this side of at least 90 minutes I would hazard.

03:17 PM

Some rain-break entertainment

Charlie Morgan, who has changed the game for rugby writers, was once a promising cricketer before turning to journalism, playing five first-class matches. He kindly agreed to strap his pads back on and take on a simulation of South Africa's pace quartet. Here's how he got on:

You can read about his enjoyable ordeal here:  I faced South Africa's pace attack – and was left feeling helpless and frazzled

03:04 PM

Rain watch

Very heavy now, with flashes of lightning and the odd rumble of thunder. Suspect most spectators will be cowering for shelter beneath the stands, in the Bicentennial Bar, or under the Grand Stand.

02:56 PM

The rain has set in, possibly for the day

The ground drains very quickly and if there is any respite we might get some more play but it's looking very bleak out there at the moment.


02:25 PM

The square is completely covered

And covered in rain. The umpires are still out but with umbrellas up. Looks like quite a lengthy delay.

02:15 PM

Rain stops play

Stuart Broad fussed for a couple of minutes about a distraction behind the bowlers arm, just long enough for the rain to thicken and the umpires lead the players off with England  in trouble.

02:11 PM

OVER 32: ENG 116/5 (Pope 61 Broad 0)

Anrich Nortje ends his ninth over with figures of 9-1-43-3, a superb return for a penetrating spell of pace from the Pavilion End and England are under the pump once again.

02:05 PM


Foakes b Nortje 6  Done by the pace and perhaps a touch of low bounce, Foakes props forward and the ball skids off the inside edge and demolishes off stump.  FOW 116/6

02:04 PM

OVER 31: ENG 116/5 (Pope 61 Foakes 6)

Pope swats two with a pull off Rabada. It's getting very gloomy for England and generally.

02:03 PM

OVER 30: ENG 114/5 (Pope 59 Foakes 6)

The lights are on and it is getting very murky out there, a few shadows on the pitch now and two bowlers breaching 90mph. Foakes flicks a single off his pads, Pope pulls one.

01:59 PM

OVER 29: ENG 112/5 (Pope 58 Foakes 5)

A pair of deuces for Pope, neither of which went where he intended, his on-drive clawed through midwicket followed by a back-cut that goes behind instead of in front of gully. Rabada's meat in that sandwich was a peach outside off that tempted Pope to fiddle after it but with no reward for the bowler's line of beauty.

England captain Ben Stokes leaves the field after being dismissed by Anrich Nortje of South Africa during day one of the First LV= Insurance Test Match between England and South Africa at Lord's Cricket Ground on August 17, 2022 in London, England.  - Gareth Copley/Getty Images
England captain Ben Stokes leaves the field after being dismissed by Anrich Nortje of South Africa during day one of the First LV= Insurance Test Match between England and South Africa at Lord's Cricket Ground on August 17, 2022 in London, England. - Gareth Copley/Getty Images

01:49 PM

OVER 28: ENG 108/5 (Pope 54 Foakes 5)

Nortje takes no time to wind up to 90mph pace. Foakes lets the first one go, watching as it zips over and past off stump, inducing an agonised groan from bowler and cordon. Foakes misses out on a cut, the bat turning in his hand as he lost his grip and cuffed it into the pitch, but gorges on a fuller length, flicking four through midwicket with a speedway rider's flick of the wrist.

01:45 PM

OVER 27: ENG 104/5 (Pope 54 Foakes 1)

Rabada, the attack leader, resumes after lunch from the Nursery End, Two whole sections of the Grand Stand are empty on resumption, as is the bottom tier of the Mound Stand. Pope plays tip and run to cover, putting his Surrey team-mate, Ben Foakes on strike. England's keeper-batsman takes four balls to get off the mark before also playing tip and run to cover before Pope punches two in front of point. Nortje will also continue.

01:10 PM

LUNCH: ENG 100/5

Very favourable bowling conditions wonderfully exploited by South Africa's 'awesome foursome' this morning, with two wickets each for Rabada and Nortje and one for the very impressive Jansen. Pope has battled and batted well, surviving a handful of scares, but Lees and Crawley were flying by the seat of their pants, Bairstow played all around a fast one, Root may consider himself unlucky and Stokes, as usual, conducted his innings as if dying by the sword is preferable to almost anything bar living by it.

01:06 PM

OVER 26: ENG 100/5 (Pope 51)   

Technically a 'life' for Pope as he flashes a drive that flies wide of third slip. Petersen flings out his right hand and is struck on the tips of his fingers but cannot close his grasp. The touch did prevent it from going for four and they run two.  Next ball Pope brings up his fifty with a drive he harpoons through cover for four and then, after taking the applause, nicks a leg bye. Stokes uses Nortje's width to square drive for four over the very tall Jansen at gully. If anyone could have reached it, it would have been him, or the ghost of AW Greig.

Two balls later, Stokes tried to flick Nortje, using the angle from round the wicket to work it through square  leg but ended up edging it to slip. England have kept their run rate high but that wickets column is a scary sight.

01:01 PM


Stokes c Petersen b Nortje 20  Falls to the final ball of the session, squared up by Nortje's pace and zip, he nicks off to third slip.  FOW 100/5

12:57 PM

OVER 25: ENG 89/4 (Pope 45 Stokes 16) 

Given Stokes' predilection this summer of charging down the pitch at quick bowlers, when he drives at his best his head is perfectly still, there is little foot movement and he just creams the ball through mid-on and mid-off. This over he spears one through mid-off, timing it so wonderfully he needs virtually no followthrough to send it screaming towards the boundary.

12:53 PM

OVER 24: ENG 85/4 (Pope 45 Stokes 12) 

Nortje duly does have a second morning spell, this one from the Pavilion End. Stokes works a single off his toes down to fine leg and Pope uses the bounce to flip two behind square leg for two.

12:51 PM

OVER 23: ENG 82/4 (Pope 43 Stokes 11)

Only a single apiece but the main point is that Stokes survives both a peach that left him outside off and his own rush of blood, charging down before discretion trumps aggression and he fiddles a single down to fine leg from three strides down.

12:48 PM

Nick Hoult on Zak Crawley's travails

The misery continues for Zak Crawley. He tried to be patient, did not play any expansive drives and was controlled in tough batting conditions but a good ball from Rabada turned him square and edge to slip for nine leaves Crawley worrying about his place again.

He’s barely had any proper cricket since the India Test at Edgbaston and would have been better off playing Royal Lonodn 50 over innings for Kent rather than flailing around in the Hundred but commercial considerations trump cricketing sense at the moment.

A highest score of 84 this season in first-class cricket, and an average of 22 can’t be tolerated much longer. England like Harry Brook. Even though he bats middle order for Yorkshire, they think he could open the batting in the Test side. Sounds like square pegs and round holes but there are not many other candidates on the circuit.

12:47 PM

OVER 22: ENG 80/4 (Pope 42 Stokes 10)

Two glorious strokes from Stokes off Jansen, who has bowled the fullest length of the four quicks and has swung it the furthest, too. Stokes on drives for four, checking the followthrough then, a couple of balls later, skewers a second through mid-off, between bowler and fielder.

12:44 PM

OVER 21: ENG 71/4 (Pope 41 Stokes 2)

Back comes Rabada for Nortje at the Nursery End. Nortje will have  a dart down the hill before lunch, one would expect. Pope, who is parp-parping along nicely, drives two through cover and takes a single off a bottome-edged pull into his midriff. 'Midriff' in this case not a euphemism.

12:41 PM

OVER 20: ENG 68/4 (Pope 38 Stokes 2)

Much less frantic from Stokes, who strokes a single through cover, and Pope, who works one through mid-on after the canes in Stokes' pads earn England two leg-byes.

12:38 PM

OVER 19: ENG 64/4 (Pope 37 Stokes 1) 

Pope takes on a short, wide on from Nortje, using the bowler's blistering pace against him with an uppercut for four. He tickles a single fine and Stokes gets off the mark from his fifth ball, driving it through mid off for a single before Pope flicks two through midwicket.

12:31 PM

Tim Wigmore reports

Delays on Jubilee Line - and perhaps the dodgy forecast for later - mean there are a few pockets of empty seats, but overall it looks pretty good. Only a handful of tickets were available for today.


12:30 PM

OVER 18: ENG 56/4 (Pope 30 Stokes 0) 

All four members of the quartet have delivered some unplayable deliveries. Rabada may have been the most consistent so far but everyone has contributed. Jansen gets one to jag back between Pope's bat and pad. Pope keeps the bat and pad firmly together in defence for the next couple and, when Jansen slightly overpitches, pushes a single through mid-on.

12:25 PM

OVER 17: ENG 55/4 (Pope 29 Stokes 0)

It took Nortje two costly overs to find his line and then does so in spectacular style, beating Bairstow with searing pace. Enter Stokes who immediately uses his feet, gung ho style, but manages to adjust late and chisel out Nortje's good length delivery that he almost turned into a yorker.

12:20 PM


Bairstow b Nortje 0  What, after the Lord's Test against New Zealand but not after the subsequent three Tests, one would call the classic Jonny Bairstow dismissal. He tried to drive, was gated by the late swing and ended up castled. FOW 55/4

12:19 PM

OVER 16: ENG 55/3 (Pope 28 Bairstow 0)

South Africa hope/think/know they have strangled Pope as Jansen again swings one down the legside but he didn't touch it and, after some deliberation. South Africa decide not to send it upstairs.

12:16 PM

OVER 15: ENG 51/3 (Pope 25 Bairstow 0)

Scyld Berry, sitting next to me I'm lucky to be able to write, points out that touring sides playing their first warm-up match at Canterbury, as South Africa did, is ideal preparation for Lord's. Jansen, who played in that match against England Lions, is getting to grips with it earlier than Nortje, who did not.

Nortje overpitches and Pope smears a square drive for four, ratchets back his length for four and, as if in tribute to the departing Root, Pope dabs it through third for four more.

12:11 PM

OVER 14: ENG 42/3 (Pope 17 Bairstow 0)

Marco Jansen picks up his first Test wicket in England by dismissing the world's best batsman. Pope had survived a leg-before shout for a ball on a similar trajectory earlier in the over but Root's was a vital inch or two fuller. After a drinks break following Root's departure, Bairstow starts with a hesitant push, squirting the ball down to second slip off a thick edge.

12:04 PM


Root lbw b Jansen 8  It was umpire's call, clipping leg stump, but was fuller than Root initially thought, hit him in line on the bottom sausage of the knee roll and, though he might count himself unlucky, it's a batsman's game and a bowler deserves those kinds of breaks.  FOW 42/3

12:03 PM

England review

Root lbw b Jansen 

12:01 PM

OVER 13: ENG 39/2 (Pope 13 Root 6)

Nortje makes it a double change, replacing Rabada. High eighties throughout the over, his length is fine for a man of his pace on a Janus-faced pitch but his line is erratic, allowing Pope to glide three down to third man, Ian Bell-style, and Root to scythe four behind point.

11:58 AM

OVER 12: ENG 32/2 (Pope 11 Root 2)     

The third prong of South Africa's 'awesome foursome',  Marco Jansen, the phenomenally tall left-arm quick, comes on at first change from the Pavilion End. His first couple are neutered by the slope, conceding a leg bye, but as the over progresses he does get one to hold its line up the slope before reverting to another legside hooper.

Rabada strike - ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images
Rabada strike - ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images

11:52 AM

OVER 11: ENG 31/2 (Pope 11 Root 2)   

Goodness me! Rabada gives Root an early alarm call with one that vaults off a pretty decent length and Root has to fend it off his adam's apple with his glove. As ever with Root, there's a smile not a snarl but that must have acted like a snort of smelling salts to banish any lingering tiredness or rust. The previous ball sat up off a similar length and Root pulled it fine for two. The pitch report said there were hard patches and soft patches. There was the evidence in the space of two deliveries.

11:48 AM

OVER 10: ENG 29/2 (Pope 11 Root 02

Nitin Menon's judgment proves spot-on when Ngidi refers a turned-down leg-before appeal to DRS and the ball was shown to be missing Pope's leg-stump. That's one review lost for South Africa. The next ball is a ripper, though, whistling past off-stump as Pope left it on length. Good call by Pope, but a tight one. Pope tickles a single down to fine leg. What has Nigidi got in store for Root? Something short but not short enough and Root shuffles back to cuff it behind square for two.

11:42 AM

OVER 9: ENG 25/2 (Pope 7 Root 0)   

Rabada drops short, but not short enough, and Pope swivels quickly into a pull stroke, cuffing it for three in front of square. When he pitches it up, Rabada is hitting the seam and twice he makes Crawley attempt to close the face and catch the leading edge instead, the second of those false strokes squirting down to third for four but it was only the set up for the wicket. Good catch by Markram but Crawley simply doesn't have the form to cope with such a testing working over.

11:38 AM


Crawley c Markram b Rabada 9  Crawley has been batting as though his immediate career prospects are on quicksand all summer and continued here, nicking off after two false strokes. Rabada has given him an inquisition outside off and he couldn't resist.  FOW 25/2

11:36 AM

OVER 8: ENG 18/1 (Pope 7 Crawley 5) 

Just after Mark Butcher says 'this is no time for Bazball, it's time to dig in', Pope takes a couple of steps towards Ngidi and whips a ball from a respectable fourth-stump line through midwicket for three.

Rabada makes the breakthrough - Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Rabada makes the breakthrough - Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

11:31 AM

OVER 7: ENG 15/1 (Pope 4 Crawley 5) 

Nigidi may have been creamed through mid-on when overpitching but he responded with a jaffa to end the over, gripping and snaking away from Crawley's prod forward. He kept his hands on the straight and narrow, the path of virtue though, rather than following it.

Pope waits for Rabada to serve up a straight one and skelps it of his pads for three.

11:28 AM

OVER 6: ENG 12/1 (Pope 1 Crawley 5)

It's been a very good start by a very good attack but Crawley unwraps the shot of the morning with the sweetest of on drives for four. He makes you want to tear your hair out and then he plays a shot like that.

11:26 AM

OVER 5: ENG 8/1 (Pope 1 Crawley 1)

Good, testing maiden from Rabada, inviting His Holiness to flirt with danger outside off stump when leaving. It moved away from him, caught the toe of his bat and dropped just in front of Markram at second slip.

11:19 AM

OVER 4: ENG 8/1 (Pope 1 Crawley 1)

Crawley works a single off his pads. Pope seems to have taken a sip of Stokes' aggressive potion, charging Ngidi after being hit on the pad the previous ball but bailing out of the attacking stroke to push a single instead when it was too close to him.

11:17 AM

OVER 3: ENG 6/1 (Pope 0 Crawley 0)

The ground is filling up gradually. The Mound Stand is about half full now, the Grandstand about two-thirds. Rabada is flirting with 90mph already, going for a fuller length. Lees drives hard at the first ball and flashes it over the leaping Markram at second slip for four.

Rabada responds with a nasty bouncer that Lees sway away from. He would certainly have enjoyed an aroma of leather there.  Finally, Lees is undone by his indecision, pushing forward when he should have played back.

11:13 AM


Lees c Verreyne b Rabada 5  Too may deliveries had started too straight but this one was fast, bounced and tailed away from the left-hander who followed it and nicked it through to the keeper.  FOW 6/1

11:09 AM

OVER 2: ENG 2/0 (Lees 1 Crawley 0)

Lungi Ngidi shares the new ball from the Pavilion End. He has three slips and a gully, standing much deeper than third slip. They have a short leg in, too, for Crawley, who leaves the first five that shape away pretty judiciously. Make that six successive leaves as Ngidi starts too wide.

11:06 AM

OVER 1: ENG 2/0 (Lees 1 Crawley 0)

Alex Lees gets off the mark from the second ball, pushing it back towards square leg with a crisp thick edge as he looked to play more towards mid on.

Crawley, sword of Damocles above his head, has a flick at the inswinger but it hits his pad and they scamper a leg-bye.

Strangled appeal from Rabada when striking Lees on the front pad but the ball did too much and the umpire shakes his head.

11:01 AM

Kagiso Rabada will take the new ball

From the Nursery End. Play!

10:56 AM

In a perfect case of nominative determinism

Ian Campanologist rings the bell.

10:55 AM

Out come the players

They line up before the pavilion for the national anthems. Zak Crawley, I am informed by an esteemed colleague equipped with binoculars, has had quite the haircut.

10:52 AM

Weather latest

The first of the showers are due to hit NW8 at about noon and then it looks pretty much like an on-off day. Tomorrow afternoon looks like the best time for batting but there might be quite a few short sessions before that.

10:41 AM

Only one spinner for South Africa and it isn't Harmer

Elgar (capt), Erwee, Petersen, Markram, Van der Dussen, Verreyne (keeper), Maharaj, Jansen, Rabada, Ngidi, Nortje.

10:37 AM

Your England team

Is the same one that began the first three Tests against NZ:

Lees, Crawley, Pope, Root, Bairstow, Stokes (capt), Foakes (keeper), Potts, Broad, Leach, Anderson.

10:33 AM

South Africa have won the toss

And put England in to bat. So, for the first time this summer England, master chasers, will bat first.

Lord's is very sparse so far this morning, no more than a quarter full.

10:29 AM

Rabada is warming up , bowling from the Pavilion End

England are on the edge of the square where Jack Leach has been wheeling away. The toss is imminent and the forecast isn't quite so gloomy as when I wrote the intro in the wee small hours. We should get a good chunk of play this morning at least.

10:23 AM

Weather update

It's currently dry but overcast at Lord's. But here's what the forecast for the next few hours looks like.

11am 10% chance of rain
Noon 60%
1pm 60%
2pm 40%
3pm 30%

MCC members wait ahead of day one of the first LV= Insurance Test match at Lord's, London. Picture date: Wednesday August 17, 2022 - PA
MCC members wait ahead of day one of the first LV= Insurance Test match at Lord's, London. Picture date: Wednesday August 17, 2022 - PA

It may well be a disrupted day but would be unlikely that it's a complete washout. Chance of rain goes up to 60 per cent in the hour to 4pm and then hovers around the 30-40 per cent mark for the rest of the day.

10:20 AM

Charlie Morgan: I faced South Africa's pace attack – and was left feeling helpless and frazzled

10:17 AM

Why England must beware South Africa's spin twins

Historically, it has been fearsome pace that has been South Africa's most dangerous weapon, but that may change this summer. Tim Wigmore takes a deeper look at how and why Simon Harmer and Keshav Maharaj might be a problem for England this summer. 

08:34 AM

Good morning

And welcome to live coverage of the first Test between England and South Africa, a blog brought to you from Lord's this August morning. And typically, after weeks of blazing sunshine, today's weather forecast is pretty miserable. We have the warmth and humidity of midsummer but the skies are murky and even when it won't be raining, the satellite tells us that it will be a constant threat throughout the three sessions.

South Africa under Dean Elgar, who was appointed to the full-time role of Test captain only last year after the unhappy experiment with Quinton de Kock, has overseen an astonishing turnaround, winning in the Caribbean, beating India at home and drawing with the Test world champions New Zealand away. That run, inspired by their pace attack, has taken them to the top of the World Test Championship and up to No 3 in the World Rankings. England, by comparison, are seventh and fourth respectively.

Elgar has reintroduced a tradition of needle between the two captains, one begun by Kepler Wessels and Michael Atherton that reached an apogee/nadir between Graeme Smith and Andrew Strauss, by not so much questioning England's approach under Bob/Brendon/Ben as pooh-poohing it, saying one day England would be left with egg on their faces when confronted by well-organised teams who also seize the initiative, something which, he pointed out, New Zealand and India were unable to do.

Ben Stokes responded, as you might expect, by telling him to keep his neb out and hinting by the very fact of Elgar talking about it - though, of course, it was not unprompted - that South Africa were rattled. Known for their conservatism - 'if in doubt, grind it out' - Stokes seemed to be saying that they were as hidebound by their tortoise strategy of batting as England are to their hares' approach. In their own ways the are both as one-dimensional as each other. It furnishes us with an engaging contrast of styles and characters. If England can keep their run rate rattling along above four an over against this attack and bowl out South Africa's most solid batting line-up since Jacques Kallis' retirement, it will be some achievement. There will be setbacks along the way, but, one suspects, no turning back by Stokes and McCullum.