Cork, who last played for England in February 1997, said: "I think the six month lay-off has been good for me. I'm more relaxed, more focused on my job. I know what England require of me. I feel I'm not far off my best."
He has set his sights on a Lord's best, even though his existing major achievement at headquarters stands at a mighty 7 for 43 on his England debut against the West Indies in 1995.
"I'd love to be able to get more than seven, but I'm not going to be greedy," said the revitalised Cork, who could have been celebrating a fifth wicket already, had he not overstepped and been no-balled when Mike Atherton held on to a slip catch to shift Rhodes for just 16.
"It was very disappointing," he said, "but that's life. You've got to carry on and I back myself to bowl the same ball again."
It was not so much a grandstand finish as a grandstand start - albeit a belated one. After waiting for two and a half hours for play to get under way, the 30,000-plus crowd, who had witnessed The Duke of Edinburgh opening the rebuilt, pounds 11.3m Grand Stand, were quickly given something to shout about.
Cork had England fizzing inside 12 minutes when Gary Kirsten deflected the ball on to his off stump. Nine balls later Cork accounted for Jacques Kallis. "That wicket was my favourite," he said. "I'd bowled a couple of good ones to him then I went wide of the crease and it went down the hill." His other two wickets - Adam Bacher and Daryll Cullinan - were caught behind by wicketkeeper Alec Stewart, going to his right each time.
However, the worry for England is that Rhodes is not out on 47 in an unbroken stand of 89 in 111 balls and 82 minutes with Cronje.
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