Bowlers match the batsmen as England hit rock bottom

In all honesty, it was too ghastly to contemplate. After winning a couple of what one must now feel were entirely irrelevant one-day competitions in the first part of the summer, England have now reached the stage when the batsmen do not know their backsides from their elbows and the bowlers are hoping to take a wicket sometime in the next week.

The first day at Edgbaston, when South Africa made 398 for 1, was bad enough; a week later at Lord's, the first day of the second Test was altogether more awful. England's supporters had to pin their hopes on an inspirational performance from bowlers who had been looking the complete antithesis of "inspirational" almost for longer than anyone could remember.

It was a grey and rather dismal morning as drizzle prevented any play for the first hour-and-a-quarter. There was heavy cloud cover, the light was far from perfect and it was an excellent morning for bowling. The only problem was likely to be the damp outfield, which was likely to make the ball less easy to hold.

Jimmy Anderson began from the Nursery End. It was important not to allow the batsmen the freedom to hit the ball off the square so that it would become wet as it raced away towards the boundary. So what happened? Anderson's second ball was a half-volley just outside the leg stump and Graeme Smith, who is a master on the leg side, flicked it almost casually to the fine-leg boundary. Anderson had to borrow a cloth or handkerchief from Michael Vaughan at mid-off to dry the ball.

Then it was Steve Harmison's turn from the Pavilion End. His first ball was very much a loosener. Why couldn't he have done his loosening-up before he left the pavilion and have been ready to bowl that first ball flat out? He produced a fastish-medium long-hop well wide off the off stump. Smith's ears went back. He leapt on it and square-cut it, with a rasping relish, down to the New Mound Stand boundary. The ball was wetter still.

In the circumstances it was important for the bowlers to try and contain, to bowl a tight length and line and force the batsmen to take risks in order to score runs. But they were utterly unable to do so. After, say, three good balls, the next one would disappear to the boundary and the pressure had gone.

Soon after lunch Gary Kirsten was responsible for one marvellous moment of cricketing good sense. Ashley Giles had bowled him five good balls, all of which he had played defensively. The sixth was also on a length but Kirsten now took a couple of paces down the pitch and drove Giles back over his head for four, resoundingly regaining the initiative.

England needed over after over to be on the spot, not just five balls. By tea, one began to wonder if the bowlers would ever take a wicket. And then there were those two dreadful dropped catches by Nasser Hussain and Mark Butcher.