And welcome to coverage of the second Test between England and South Africa at Old Trafford. The hosts are 1-0 down in the series after their two-day defeat (if you discount the time lost to rain) at Lord’s.
They managed to hold out for 45 overs in the first innings in, admittedly on day one at least, very favourable bowling conditions, and for 37.3 overs on day three in brilliant sunshine.
South Africa’s wonderfully balanced pace attack – Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje and Marco Jansen – were magnificent and ably supported by Keshav Maharaj who ripped out Zak Crawley and Ollie Pope to start the second rout.
They are likely to be just as formidable on an Old Trafford pitch that quicks usually relish. Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood shared 17 wickets in 2019 to ensure Australia burst the post-Headingley bubble and retained the Ashes. Things could get messy again.
Although England’s batting is unchanged and hence still fragile – with genuine concern about the suitability of Zak Crawley, Alex Lees and Ben Foakes to cope with the pace and different angles of attack posed by the quick-bowling quartet, coupled with their instructions to take the fight to them – Ollie Pope’s first knock at Lord’s, the form and class of Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow, and the quality of Ben Stokes when playing judiciously – not a sight we’ve seen this summer – always gives them hope.
The recall for Ollie Robinson, who seems finally have screwed the nut and dedicated himself to the fitness regime required to be durable in international cricket, is another positive.
Of his 39 Test wickets at 21.28, taken at a strike rate of 48.4, he can boast knocking over Rishabh Pant four times, Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma three times, Cheteshwar Pujara, KL Rahul, Steve Smith and David Warner twice apiece.
This is not a man to gloss his figures with the tail’s entrails. He bowls out the very best and, if he can now manage more than two decent spells at full power a day, he can make hay against South Africa’s batsmen.
‘If’ is carrying a lot of weight today and, as Stokes says, the trouble with most people in this country is a lack of belief and willingness to think and act positively. I’m sure we would all be different, if we hadn’t had our fingers burned so frequently before.