If you don’t like Moeen Ali, you don’t like cricket

Final report: England (458 & 233) beat South Africa (361 & 119) by 211 runs

Moeen Ali is only one bad spell or loose shot from people who are wrong to call for him to be dropped. But even they can only rise, along with all of Lord’s and all here at GC Towers, to salute England’s bearded wonder, who was deservedly named man of the match.

The 87 runs in the first innings were compiled in classically beautiful, at times breathtaking fashion. But it was his 10-112, dismissing all of South Africa’s frontline batsmen bar Duminy at least once, that not just underlined but writ large across the cloudless London sky his all-round value to this England team – he bowled with turn, bounce, accuracy, and subtle variation in pace, making him a joy to watch with ball in hand.

The speed of South Africa’s collapse after tea was something to behold – 7-94 in 23.4 overs – but the scorecard should not fool you into thinking that this was a walkover. England had to fight through an excellent opening spell from Vernon Philander in the first innings, what was ultimately an abortive middle order fightback from the South African middle order on day 3, and the consistent excellence of Morne Morkel.

But with Moeen at his best, and Joe Root continuing a fine recent tradition of England captains starting their careers with hundreds, the hosts were ultimately too strong in all departments for the depleted South Africans. The visitors will be reinforced by the return of their captain Faf du Plessis, but Rabada suspended and Philander’s hand a mass of bruises, England go into Trent Bridge heavy favourites.

Join us on Friday morning for all the fun of the Nottinghamshire fair. Until then, adieu!- – –

Tea report, day 4: South Africa 25-3, require 306 to win; England require 306 to win; 38 overs remaining today

Hashim Amla is the only batsman in the world who can make dropping the bat after being hit look elegant. Whereas lesser mortals flinch and writhe, when Amla was pinned on the arm by a lifter from James Anderson, he gently placed the bat and arm guard on the ground as though laying flowers upon the grave of a loved one.

Sadly for South Africa, this was about the only moment of elegance in the session for them. Amla did managed to beautifully lever Anderson through midwicket, but for his colleagues Elgar, Kuhn and Duminy, it was a session of toil and struggle against an extremely disciplined England attack.

Having pushed England into a strong lead of 330 in concert with the enterprising Mark Wood, Johnny Bairstow put an end to what had already been a scratchy opening stand, complete with a DRS reprieve for Dean Elgar, taking a fine tumbling catch off Anderson down the legside to dismiss Heino Kuhn for 9.

Elgar didn’t make much of his self-granted second life, however, continuing the theme of the first innings performers not performing in the second by punching a caught and bowled back to Moeen Ali for an almost strokeless 2.

And right on the stroke of tea, the Bear’s favourite* JP Duminy gifted Mark Wood his first wicket of the match, smearing a long-hop to midwicket where the nerveless Moeen clung on.

While at the innings break the game had looked even, England have taken a firm grasp on proceedings, and there is a very real question now whether South Africa will survive the day.

– – –

Lunch report, day 4: England 182-8, lead by 279.

Morne Morkel has a hard-earned reputation as an unlucky bowler – good length balls passing rather than hitting the outside edge, close LBW shouts, catches falling short, the whole shebang.

But on a tense fourth morning at Lord’s, finally those edges carried and those catches were caught, and with the rest of the attack finally coming to the party, England lost 7-43 in 15.2 overs to leave the match, if not quite in the balance, then intriguingly poised on the liveliest Lord’s pitch in years.

Cook and Ballance started solidly enough, but barring one crashing cut shot were never allowed to get away against Morkel and the mercifully fit-again Vernon Philander. As such, when Cook’s loose drive was smartly taken by a diving Bavuma, the lead had only advanced by 20.

Morkel struck again in his next over, getting one to straighten and take Ballance’s edge from round the wicket, leaving England 239 ahead with a five and a half sessions to bat and an explosive middle order with power to add…in theory.

In practice, Morkel’s efforts were finally matched by his fellow bowlers, and England’s expectations of a lead tumbled rapidly. Keshav Maharaj had been turning the ball extravagantly since his first over on day 3, which seemingly spooked the new England captain as his limp prod wasn’t enough to keep one that went straight on from rearranging his stumps.

3 overs later, Kagiso Rabada added another to his gallery of Ben Stokes send-offs. The ball was orthodox enough, keeping low from round the wicket and crashing into his pads, but the real fun came after the umpire’s finger went up. Captain Elgar playfully clamping a hand over his staring paceman’s mouth and Rabada following up with a well-aimed shushing finger, delighting GIF-makers everywhere.

Bairstow and Moeen briefly threatened to restore England’s equanimity, adding 30 in 7 overs to sneak the England lead over 275. But when a Maharaj turner sailed through Moeen’s gate, the hapless Liam Dawson was the unlucky victim of a surprise thigh-high full toss second ball from Rabada that in truth would have troubled most batsman. His batting analysis in Test cricket now contains 3 ducks in his last 3 innings.

Broad went one worse, turning his first ball straight into the waiting hands on the absurdly square jawed Theunis de Bruyn at short leg for a golden duck. England were in truth very thankful for the lunch break, whereas South Africa, led well by the stand-in Elgar, wouldn’t have minded an extra half-hour or so.

The second session promises to be a cracker – join us on TuneIn or Facebook Live and see how it goes!