Credit where it is due and plenty of it. No caveats, no qualifications, no provisos. England, having played pretty limply for most of the past year and – to their abundant displeasure – frequently being told so, finally delivered when it counted most.
This was always the series which they knew they had to win, the one which, as they recognise, would show them the measure of their progress. If any.
There is some way to go and there remains work to be done to secure a 1-0 lead but England finished the third day 333 ahead after enforcing the follow-on. They need all 10 second-innings wickets and if they prevail against South Africa at Lord's for the first time in almost half a century it will provide them with a self-belief which for once would not be misguided.
Their bowlers yesterday resumed where their batsmen had so thrillingly begun. South Africa were under-prepared both in mind and body. They were not ready for a team which has been playing months of hard cricket and gentle games in Taunton and Uxbridge were not the small-town try-outs necessary for the big city stage.
When will touring teams ever learn? When they have gone to cricketing graveyards every one, probably.
The doubts about the England bowlers coming into the day with a huge total behind them mainly surrounded whether there were enough of them to overcome tough, bristling opponents. Those may still persist and a quintet always has more oomph than a quartet. On this day it was all but academic.
Only Ashwell Prince, on his first appearance at the ground, offered the remotest resistance. He constructed a century which was as pragmatic as it was phlegmatic. It was notable because of the team's dire circumstances and because it was the first by a non-white South African at the ground. That should not be worthy of comment but it is.
Prince batted for nearly five hours and was ninth out. His colleagues, in too many places, were reminiscent of England's recent vintage at their soggiest. Ill judgement was accompanied by lack of gumption.
Each of England's three seamers gathered wickets and Monty Panesar at times seemed virtually unplayable. With catching of a high order, England continued their dominance on a pitch that was still more akin to a featherbed than a bed of nails.
England had the cushion of their highest first-innings score for five years, since they made 604, also against South Africa, at The Oval. In acquiring it, they fairly rattled along at 3.8 runs an over. It is the sort of rate that wins matches, or at least puts a win in prospect, and it was last achieved against West Indies last summer and maybe more authentically against Pakistan in 2006.
England had the follow-on in mind from the day's start. For most of the morning it looked as much probable as possible. South Africa have not lost at Lord's for 48 years – not quite matching Australia's 74 years but good enough – and have won all three encounters here since their international readmission.
But this time it was as though Lord's and what it stands for had consumed them. The bowlers were the first to be devoured on the first morning. So much was expected and they failed to deliver. In the words of their estimable coach, Mickey Arthur, they had looked like visitors in the outfield.
The tourists' batsmen too seemed ready to be gobbled up, as if emerging through the Long Room had disturbed them. It might be enough to get to anybody. The so-called chicken run, the tunnel through which players have to walk to take the field at the Wanderers in Johannesburg, is generally reckoned to be the most discomfiting experience in world cricket. The Long Room, full of members of one of the planet's most famous establishments, is clearly not to be underestimated.
MCC issued an apology to the South African team yesterday for the behaviour of some its own on Friday. Courtesy prevailed yesterday but to no early avail. England bowled well in patches, and certainly with more intelligence and skill than their opponents.
Plans, as Arthur had also observed, are one thing but following them another. In his only previous Test innings on the ground, Graeme Smith had made 259, the highest score by an overseas player at Lord's. That can never be a millstone but equally he can never expect to match it.
He might have settled for a few more yesterday; he might have traded 50 or so of his 259. The ball from James Anderson which got him bounced a little more than he expected but his bat looked at the wrong angle to deal with it and when it hit the splice it looped to gully. England sensed something and so did the crowd. Hashim Amla looked ill at ease throughout his brief stay.
When his helmet fell off as he jerked his head to avoid a shortish ball he smiled but it was the thin smile of a man who knew he had escaped this time but was condemned nevertheless. His demise, brushing one from Stuart Broad that went down the slope from the Nursery End, was wholly expected in the circumstances. In came Jacques Kallis, scorer of ducks in his only two previous international innings at Lord's.
He had made seven more than that when he pushed one from Ryan Sidebottom that went across him to first slip.
These were big potatoes for England and they grew larger with the removal of Neil McKenzie, hitherto the only man in double figures. McKenzie's innings had been marked by its vigilance, allied to occasional fluency. How that all went awry in a moment of rank carelessness when he paid scant attention to a ball from Panesar outside leg stump. It ripped in from the rough and bowled him round his legs.
At last there was to be a fight made of the match. The crowd, in a state of incredulous ecstasy all match at the manner in which England executed all their disciplines, changed mood along with South Africa. The tourists did not exactly rebuild but they began to place a few bricks in the wall in a proper fashion.
Together Prince and AB de Villiers offered something approaching resistance. Prince, counter-attacking at first, was extremely well ordered, De Villiers less so. England had so many runs to play with that they were a long way from running out of ideas but they would have been grateful for the manner in which the fifth-wicket partnership of 78 was broken in its 33rd over.
A stunningly athletic catch from Anderson, running to his left from mid-wicket and then leaping high to hold the catch with two hands, did for De Villiers. This was the breach that mattered. There was little resolve thereafter. Mark Boucher shouldered arms to Broad and saw the resultant bottom edge clatter into his stumps, Morne Morkel survived precariously until he was bowled through the gate by Panesar. It was all England, the crowd were alive again.
Paul Harris played a silly shot, Anderson took another wonderful catch and Prince needed vital tail-end help to reach the century he richly deserved.
Kevin Pietersen gleefully ended the innings with the light fading. He and Panesar then opened the bowling as the start of the follow-on lasted four overs. The only surprise was that they went wicketless.
South Africa won toss
England – First Innings 593-8 dec (I R Bell 199, K P Pietersen 152; M Morkel 4-121)
South Africa – First Innings (Overnight 7-0)
*G C Smith c Bell b Anderson
(23 min, 21 balls, 1 four) 8
N D McKenzie b Panesar
(139 min, 89 balls, 5 fours) 40
H M Amla c Ambrose b Broad
(42 min, 32 balls, 1 four) 6
J H Kallis c Strauss b Sidebottom
(35 min, 19 balls, 1 four) 7
A G Prince c Ambrose b Sidebottom
(297 min, 183 balls, 13 fours, 1 six) 101
A B de Villiers c Anderson b Panesar
(130 min, 119 balls, 5 fours) 42
† M V Boucher b Broad
(16 min, 11 balls) 4
M Morkel b Panesar
(23 min, 22 balls, 1 four) 6
P L Harris c Anderson b Panesar
(20 min, 18 balls, 1 four) 6
D W Steyn c Sidebottom b Pietersen
(81 min, 46 balls, 2 fours) 19
M Ntini not out
(13 min, 1 ball) 0
Extras (1b, 4lb, 3w) 8
Total (414 min, 93.3 overs) 247
Fall: 1-13 (Smith), 2-28 (Amla), 3-47 (Kallis), 4-83 (McKenzie), 5-161 (De Villiers), 6-166 (Boucher), 7-191 (Morkel), 8-203 (Harris), 9-245 (Prince), 10-247 (Steyn).
Bowling: Sidebottom 19-3-41-2 (5-1-11-0 5-1-7-1 5-0-13-0 4-1-10-1), Anderson 21-7-36-1 (w1) (7-4-4-1 3-0-18-0 9-3-12-0 2-0-2-0), Broad 23-3-88-2 (w2) (5-1-22-1 7-1-23-0 11-1-43-1), Panesar 26-4-74-4 (11-2-39-1 14-2-34-3 1-0-1-0), Collingwood 4-1-3-0 (one spell), Pietersen 0.3-0-0-1.
South Africa – Second Innings (Following on)
*G C Smith not out
(12 min, 12 balls, 1 four) 8
N D McKenzie not out
(12 min, 12 balls) 1
Extras (4b) 4
Total (0 wkts, 12 min, 4 overs) 13
Bowling: Panesar 2-0-7-0, Pietersen 2-1-2-0.
Umpires: B F Bowden (NZ) and D J Harper (Aus).
Third Umpire: N J Long (Eng).
Match Referee: J J Crowe (NZ).Reuse content