England are a mercurial bunch. For six months their batsmen laboured against a disciplined yet modest New Zealand side, serving up performances that left most supporters fearing for their welfare against a strong and intimidating South African attack. Yet the sight of world-class fast bowlers running in hard with the intent of causing physical and mental pain has transformed them from doubting Thomases into a ruthless collection of run-hungry beasts.
Ian Bell led England's memorable charge to 593 for 8, their fourth-highest score at Lord's, falling one agonising run short of a maiden Test double hundred when he was superbly caught and bowled by Paul Harris. Up to that moment it was a glorious chanceless innings from England's most aesthetically pleasing yet frustrating batsman and he deserved to reach the landmark.
Stuart Broad gave him wonderful support during a hugely entertaining run-a-minute partnership of 152. Broad's 76 underlined his potential with the bat. The left-hander cracked numerous delightful boundaries through the off side and equipped himself well against the short ball. After this showing he could bat ahead of Andrew Flintoff in next week's second Test at Headingley.
The dismissal of Bell brought about England's declaration but the hosts failed to break the South African opening partnership in the three overs and two balls possible before rain descended.
England will be hoping that the innings proves to be the turning point in Bell's career. In 40 Tests he has promised much but too often failed to show a killer instinct. Bell can do it, as he proved last week when he amassed 215 for Warwickshire against Gloucestershire. His strokeplay is always a joy to watch; few players strike the ball as crisply as the 26-year-old. In many ways he is too nice and something of an oddity – a short man without a syndrome. Rather than impose himself on the world through aggressive posturing or a loud voice, he is happy to move along in the shadow of others.
Bell celebrated his eighth Test hundred in grand style by jumping uncontrollably in the air and then kissing the three lions and crown on his shirt and helmet. If the England tattoo on Kevin Pietersen's arm had been showing that would undoubtedly have been given a good snog, too. In the excitement of reaching three figures Bell forgot the shot he played was worth two runs, which were completed only when Pietersen caught his attention.
His innings ended the prospect of him making way for Flintoff next week. Instead, it is Paul Collingwood who will nervously await the verdict of the selectors after wrongly being given out for seven.
Intermittent showers hampered Bell's advance to a double century, forcing the teams twice from the pitch when he was in the 190s. With a declaration looming he knew that he had to get on with it, hence the aggressive stroke that caused his downfall. Two or three of the South Africans congratulated him as he forlornly walked off. Cricket is a stupid game. In what other sport does a player leave an arena so disappointed having achieved so much? Bell was two-thirds of the way back to the pavilion before the size of his feat dawned on him. It was then that he turned round and acknowledged the applause of a delighted crowd.
Pietersen had given the spectators a wonderful morning, bludgeoning the South African bowlers to all parts of the famous old ground as he passed 150. Bell ensured England retained Thursday's initiative with the second ball of the day when he effortlessly clipped Dale Steyn through square leg for four. Pietersen repeated the feat in the next over, dispatching Makhaya Ntini to the mid-wicket boundary. The stroke took the partnership to 200, breaking England's previous record for the fourth wicket against South Africa.
Further sublime shots followed with Pietersen, especially, slipping up another gear. In a mood like this and on a pitch possessing minimal pace and bounce, Pietersen is almost impossible to bowl at. Attempts to get the right hander on the back foot result in a hard pull or hook shots to deep square leg, straight balls are flicked powerfully through the leg side and widish deliveries are fine smashed through the covers. It is at times like this that a bowler attempts to avoid eye contact with his captain.
Seventy runs were taken off Steyn and Ntini's 11 overs as England moved from a strong position to one of complete control. Bell reached three figures with a push through the off side while Pietersen nonchalantly passed 150. England reached 400 in their first innings for the first time in 13 Tests when Bell hacked Harris down the ground for four. Batting at Lord's has rarely seemed easier.
Pietersen's fun ended when, on 152, he gloved a bouncer from Morne Morkel through to wicketkeeper Mark Boucher. As South Africa celebrated, their former countryman made his way towards the pavilion, stopping halfway to acknowledge the standing ovation from a capacity crowd.
In walked Collingwood knowing that his Test future could be on the line. England's No 6 has had an awful couple of weeks but he began in confident style, pulling Morkel for a four and three. But facing his second ball from Harris he pushed innocently forward and was given out caught by Hashim Amla at short leg by umpire Billy Bowden. Collingwood could not believe the decision and he, like Andrew Strauss on Thursday, must have wished the England and Wales Cricket Board had agreed to trial the three appeals experiment in this series. Television replays confirmed that the ball had made no contact with bat before lobbing to short leg.
Tim Ambrose, another England player in need of a major score, failed to deliver too, edging a loose waft at Morkel to Graeme Smith at first slip. Ambrose will probably survive any mini-cull, the demand for Matthew Prior to return is not as strong as that of Flintoff, but he will need a sizeable score in Leeds if he is to avoid speculation.
South Africa won toss
England – First innings
(Overnight: 309 for 3)
A J Strauss lbw b Morkel......... 44
178 min, 131 balls, 6 fours
A N Cook c de Villiers b Morkel......... 60
191 min, 132 balls, 9 fours
*M P Vaughan b Steyn......... 2
7 min, 3 balls
K P Pietersen c Boucher b Morkel......... 152
281 min, 181 balls, 20 fours, 1 six
I R Bell c and b Harris......... 199
496 min, 336 balls, 20 fours, 1 six
P D Collingwood c Amla b Harris......... 7
16 min, 13 balls, 1 four
†T R Ambrose c Smith b Morkel......... 4
11 min, 7 balls
S C J Broad b Harris......... 76
159 min, 124 balls, 10 fours
R J Sidebottom not out......... 1
31 min, 22 balls
Extras (b14 lb12 w7 nb15)......... 48
Total (for 8 dec, 688 min, 156.2 overs)......... 593
Fall: 1-114 (Strauss) 2-117 (Vaughan) 3-117 (Cook) 4-403 (Pietersen) 5-413 (Collingwood) 6-422 (Ambrose) 7-574 (Broad) 8-593 (Bell).
Did not bat: M S Panesar, J M Anderson,
Bowling: Steyn 35-8-117-1 (nb6,w6) (3-2-1-0, 7-2-23-0, 2-0-10-1, 2-0-9-0, 3-0-14-0, 9-0-40-0, 6-2-19-0, 3-2-1-0); Ntini 29-2-130-0 (5-2-10-0, 2-0-8-0, 5-0-17-0, 1-0-6-0, 3-0-7-0, 8-0-50-0, 3-0-27-0, 2-0-5-0); Morkel 34-3-121-4 (nb5) (2-0-12-0, 6-0-16-0, 5-1-13-2, 5-0-16-0, 3-2-9-0, 9-0-36-2, 4-0-19-0); Kallis 20-3-70-0 (w1) (6-2-12-0, 4-0-19-0, 5-1-18-0, 2-0-6-0, 3-0-15-0); Harris 38.2-8-129-3 (nb4) (1-1-0-0, 2-1-2-0, 12-2-54-0, 9-2-32-1, 14.2-2-41-2).
Progress: Second day: 350: 420 min, 96.4 overs. 400: 465 min, 106.1 overs. Rain stopped play 12.34-12.41pm 413-4 (Bell 113, Collingwood 7) 110.3 overs. Rain stopped play 12.53-1.50pm: 422-5 (Bell 118, Ambrose 4) 113.1 overs. 450: 523 min, 119.3 overs. 500: 583 min, 131.5 overs. Tea: 535-6 (Bell 171, Broad 54) 138 overs. 550: 620 min, 141.2 overs. Rain stopped play: 4.57-5.12pm: 579-7 (Bell 192, Sidebottom 1) 151 overs. Rain stopped play: 5.24-5.35pm 587-7 (Bell 197, Sidebottom 1) 153.3 overs.
Cook's 50: 140 min, 92 balls, 9 fours. Pietersen's 50: 106 min, 73 balls, 6 fours, 1 six. 100: 180 min, 124 balls, 13 fours, 1 six. 150: 276 min, 176 min, 20 fours, 1 six. Bell's 50: 132 min, 89 balls, 5 fours. 100: 255 min, 189 balls, 11 fours. 150: 348 min, 252 balls, 15 fours, 1 six. Broad's 50: 109 min, 85 balls, 6 fours.
South Africa – First innings
*G C Smith not out......... 2
14 min, 13 balls
N D McKenzie not out......... 5
14 min, 7 balls, 1 four
Total (for 0, 14 min, 3.2 overs) ......... 7
To bat: H M Amla, J H Kallis, A F Prince, A B de Villiers, †M V Boucher, M Morkel, P L Harris, D W Steyn, M Ntini.
Bowling: Sidebottom 2-0-5-0; Anderson 1.2-0-2-0.
Umpires: B F Bowden (NZ) and D J Harper (Aus).
TV replay umpire: N J Llong.
Match referee: J J Crowe.
Shot of the Day
*Ian Bell showed his dexterity when he guided a short ball from Makhaya Ntini down to third man for four. The stroke of a man at the top of his game.
Ball of the Day
*Morne Morkel's ball to dismiss Pietersen, gloved through to the keeper, showed what the South Africans are capable of.
Moment of the Day
*When Ian Bell was caught and bowled by Paul Harris he became the first England batsman to be dismissed on 199.