Ollie Robinson and Ollie Pope lead England to slight advantage over South Africa after remarkable day

·5-min read

It seems an awfully long time ago that, on the first morning of this Test, Ben Stokes strolled out for the toss and, almost before the coin had landed, blurted out: “Yep, cheers, we’ll have a bowl”.

The heavens opened before England could get that far and had forced a washout long before the death of Britain’s longest reigning monarch was announced, minutes after what would have been the scheduled close of play.

Day two was lost, quickly cancelled as a mark of respect to the late Queen, but on Saturday, having seen football pull stumps, cricket, quite rightly, chose to kick on.

Some average batting meant the game did likewise, 17 wickets falling in just 70 overs of play to accelerate what is now effectively a three-day Test towards a necessarily swift conclusion. Ollie Robinson took five-for and Stuart Broad four as South Africa were skittled for just 118, before England fell to 154 for seven in reply, despite Ollie Pope’s sprightly 67 on his home ground.

At stumps, called, farcically, for bad light under clearing skies, they lead by 36 runs with three wickets in hand following a remarkable, poignant day.

It is hard to attend a sporting fixture these days without joining a pre-match tribute of some sort and each of them, it goes without saying, honour worthy individuals that, however well-known, are deemed to have impacted numerous lives or left behind some lasting mark.

As it turns out, though, not all silences sound the same.

In fact, when the PA formally announced the start of a minute’s hush here, a sell-out Oval had already been on its feet and in pin-drop territory for some time.

Cricket’s relationship with the monarchy is complex, the vast majority of Test matches played between nations of the Commonwealth, the game’s reach rooted in colonialism. The scene here though, was one of genuinely moving simplicity and unanimous respect, the utterly surreal made more so by the first rendition of ‘God Save the King’ at a sporting event in more than 70 years. Even among a cricket crowd, that is longer than most had lived.

There were factors not so relevant to cricket, or to a single Test match, involved in football’s decision to postpone, which, at the elite level, was perhaps understandable, but here was a showcase of what might have been, justice to a moment done, a moment done right.

Britain has changed in the last 48 hours, but overhead conditions remained much as Stokes had left them on Thursday, when grey skies prompted him to put his faith in his bowlers on the morning of day one.

Stokes pledged his side would do all they could to force a result within the time remaining and it had, in fairness, proved more than ample at both Old Trafford and Lord’s. By the time South Africa were six-down for 36 in little more than an hour, it was clear why it ought to suffice again.

Robinson’s recall after a spring and summer of fitness travails had been instrumental in England levelling the series in Manchester and the leaner, faster, stronger Sussex seamer started the collapse when he removed Dean Elgar’s off-stump in only the second over of the day. With their skipper gone, an otherwise inexperienced South African top order fell in a heap in the face of a relentless, eight-over new-ball spell from Robinson 2.0.

He was helped by some sorry batting - an ill-judged leave from Keegan Petersen and a rancid loose shot from Wiaan Mulder, the all-rounder brought in to strengthen a brittle lineup - but by the time the 28-year-old was done it was with career-best figures of five for 49, one shy of a 50th Test wicket in only his 11th Test. Belatedly, the find of last summer has come to the party this.

South Africa’s decision to turn down a two-day game in the elongated break between Tests was not looking especially shrewd and neither was the already maligned one to leave Marco Jansen out at Old Trafford as the left-armer, having already marked his recall by top-scoring with 30, then took the first four wickets in England’s reply.

Sport pays tribute to HM Queen Elizabeth II

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Joe Root went for 23 to a sharp Petersen catch in the slips but Stokes was caught playing an ugly drive off Anrich Norje while Harry Brook flicked straight to Kagiso Rabada at deep-square-leg soon after a short rain delay, having shown a hint of his promise with a couple of crisp boundaries on debut.

Jonny Bairstow’s injury means Brook will, in Pakistan this winter, get the chance his form across the summer has deserved but further failures from the opening pair of Alex Lees and Zak Crawley are a problem with a view to what comes next.

Lees’ bright start to the summer has rather fizzled out, though he at least played with intent in his brief stay of 13 off six balls. He is perhaps fortunate that his recent struggles have been overshadowed by the longer standing ones of Crawley and the fact that it has proved hard enough to find one opener, let alone two.

Supposedly the more natural stroke player, Crawley went nowhere as he scored just five off 34 deliveries, nor did he budge when given lbw to Jansen, unwisely reviewing before dragging himself from the crease when shown by DRS to be very out, indeed. To re-establish their cases, both men are in need of a second innings score.

After a day that began in reflective, sombre fashion, then was flicked onto fast-forward, they are fortunate that this match looks likely to get even that far.