At the end of an extraordinary day on which 17 wickets fell, Stuart Broad singled out for praise not a player but “whoever decided to put the game on”. Friday’s second day had been cancelled after the death of Queen Elizabeth II but instead of abandoning the Test the England and Wales Cricket Board opted to precede its resumption with a short but memorable tribute that was largely conducted in complete silence, culminating in the singing of the national anthem.
Without any instruction, those present rose and stood silent even before the players had left their dressing rooms, creating an eerie and extraordinary atmosphere that ended only after God Save the King had been sung, and with the ninth ball of the match Ollie Robinson ripped out the off stump of the South Africa captain, Dean Elgar.
“It was incredible actually. It was amazing to be a part of,” said Broad. “To walk down those stairs, every single player commented on how special it was – you could hear a pin drop. The respect shown by everyone in the stadium was incredible. I feel really glad with whoever decided to put the game on. It felt like a celebration of the Queen’s life today.”
As a result of a decision taken at the toss 48 hours earlier England got the opportunity to bowl in ideal conditions and took full advantage. South Africa were dismissed for 118 in 36.2 overs, their shortest innings on English soil, with Robinson claiming his third five-wicket haul in Tests – before saying he spent the entire time feeling distinctly out of sorts.
“I actually didn’t feel that great,” he said. “My run-up was all over the place. I couldn’t find a rhythm, I was just trying to focus on smashing a length, really. It was not the best I’ve felt. But the wicket had been under covers for three days – it did feel like one of the bowlers was going to get a bagful. Fortunately today it was me, and it’s put the team in a great position.”
South Africa’s batting coach, Justin Sammons, insisted the unusual start to the day had no impact on his side’s performance. “On the day they were better than us and throughout the tour that’s generally been the case,” he said. “What we’ve been missing is partnerships but for that to happen individuals need to make their starts count, which hasn’t happened on this tour. We know we haven’t been good enough as a batting group, but we are working hard to get to the standards we need to get to.”
England’s batting has hardly been more reliable, and Ollie Pope’s 67 was instrumental in allowing them to build a 36-run lead at stumps, with seven wickets down. “If we bowl again tomorrow and put the South Africa batters under pressure we will be batting on a day three Oval pitch, which is arguably the best time to bat,” said Broad. “We want a result in this game, we don’t want a draw, and so we play in a style that will create a result and after day one we are looking at a win or a loss – and in our minds it will be a win.”