The balance of power goes the way of South Africa as they edge out Bazballs England |  England v South Africa 2022

The balance of power goes the way of South Africa as they edge out Bazballs England | England v South Africa 2022

TThe Lord’s watch had already passed 1 p.m. and irresolvable sense of injustice, who can too – did we mention this? – 97 mph bowl that hits the chest in ducks.

Nortje is really a wonderful fast shooter. Here, his morning was divided into two short spells, one from each end. He’s not tall, but he has fearsome whip-like force, jumping off his back foot in an exhilarating catapult motion, chest forward but still smooth and easy in his movements.

It’s been a steady journey to this point, a run that has become a multi-franchise, all-format supernova as it nears its prime. He made his debut for the Eastern Province against Namibia eight years ago. His first two wickets in professional cricket belonged to a starter named Wayne Raw, who sounds like the main character in a Martin Amis novel about Afrikaner fast bowlers of the 1980s. Anrich Nortje told Wayne Raw in Windhoek. Imagine how hot he was. Imagine how much meat they ate for lunch.

Nortje, now 28, played at university, was always fast and has now matured into a hugely skilled bowler. Forty minutes earlier he had produced a beautiful little miniature, knocking Jonny Bairstow’s center stump off the ground with a 93mph in-ducker, the perfect execution of the perfect delivery, perfectly matched to his opponent’s weakness, with the full stop perfect cinematic. Nortje even produced the perfect celebration, dropping to his knees and swinging his right arm like a man carefully piercing a waterbed with a bread knife.

And how he had Stokes in his sights; and not just Stokes, but the day, the mood, the vibe around it. England were 100 for four at the time and moving almost four up, poised at one of those crossroads moments. Was this good? Was it good in the new way of being good, good energy, good vibes, good forward movement? Where would this thing go?

Stokes had been hitting like he has all summer, like a man in shoes three sizes too small, jumping off his line, pirouettes on his heels, throwing the ball to outfielders. Kagiso Rabada had played wonderfully with the new ball. He came back 20 minutes before lunch and you felt that this was the game here, the time to defend with aggression, to defend as a form of attack, basically to defend. Please come.

Ben Stokes returns to the pavilion after being out 20
Ben Stokes returns to the arena after being out 20, as the players break for lunch on the opening day of the first Task. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

Just a thought. At the other end, Ollie Pope had just moved into a nice, fast, flowing 69-ball fifty. Stokes shoved Marco Jansen up the middle for four twice, a throwback to how he’s hit at his best, a shot that relies on standing still, letting the ball go into the arc of his wrists and just leaning into it with a easy, brutal elegance.

Would I have left this ball, or played it more gently, more carefully if I hadn’t also cut a point earlier in the over, if I wasn’t gasping on 20 of 29 balls? Probably not. And it was a beautiful bowling piece from Nortje, straightening up, turning Stokes around and taking a thick edge on the third slip.

With that, the balance of power, of risk and reward, seemed to settle decisively in a way. In the build-up to this game there were some amusingly tricky jokes about exactly who, hosts or tourists, was more obsessed with England’s “brave” new approach. They keep talking about it. Well, they keep talking about us talking about it. Who, exactly, is mentally playing who here? Who can live for free in whose head? Is it some kind of summer home exchange?

With this in mind, it will be necessary to conclude that with that last dance before lunch, by reducing England to 116 by six on a rain-ruined first day, South Africa have blown a huge hole in that rather inexperienced new era. , the catchphrase , the brilliant career chases.

And yet, of course, no one pretended that this would always work. Stokes, by many orthodox measures, hit horribly this summer. England have won every game. He’s averaging 40. Also, the other point here is that England were essentially outclassed at Bazz on this first morning, met with a bigger force, more controlled aggression.

Three of Nortje’s first six balls went to the limit. By lunch he had figures of 6-37-2. His first ball of the afternoon went at 93 mph. Shortly after, he bowled to Ben Foakes to finish three for 43 and Stuart Broad already on the wicket peeking out from under his helmet like a man being asked to fight a swarm of pterodactyls with a loaf of bread. This was not a victory for firmness or playing the percentages.

Perhaps the only real lesson from the first day at Lord’s was that South Africa have an impressively paced attack, almost uselessly good. Lungi Ngidi and Marco Jansen take their wickets at 20, Rabada at 22. This is generational stuff, all the fine lines, the threat and the variation – a perfect Test pace quartet for a nation that really isn’t going to play too many tests from here.

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