England Lions 279 for 3 (Lawrence 97, Brook 64*, Olivier 2-39) trail South Africans 433 (Zondo 86, van der Dussen 75, Verreynne 62, Jansen 54, Overton 5-74) by 154 runs
Lawrence’s presence at three was no accident. The composition of a top six selected for the first four Tests of the summer still has a mix of certainties and dead certainties. And so, with the permanence of Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and skipper Ben Stokes at four, five and six, first-drop, where Ollie Pope resides, is the most available and natural fit for the Essex batter to complete his 11 caps to add. far After Stokes had already impressed with his approach, it was now time to get Brendon into the side.
With a fast outfield, solid pitch and clear skies above, he displayed his typically classy but uncompromising strokeplay: clean drives down the ground, short arm pulls off front and back foot, dabs into the off side. All occasionally garnished with those wrists to ensure that the field was more rounded than he was. He hit 17 fours, and 10 of those came in the 48 balls needed to get to 50.
Under the new management trio of Key, McCullum and Stokes, an average of 29 over 21 innings will not be used as a measure of Lawrence’s credentials. But what is important is that the green shoots in that period, especially the three half-centuries, the last of which – 91 – came during the West Indies tour, after which he was cast aside – remain. The swagger hasn’t diminished, nor has the fearless spirit. And especially not the desire for responsibility at the highest level.
“I feel like I like the brand of cricket they’re trying to play,” Lawrence said at the end. “And it’s something I’d obviously be desperate to be a part of. So yeah, try to replicate it when I’m playing and hopefully come back.”
“I think it’s just trying to get rid of the fear of failure,” Lawrence said of the talk from the top and the trickle-down attitude of testing level. Going out there and just enjoying it and trying to be as free as possible and I feel like we all went out there and did that today. We all tried to express ourselves as much as possible and it was fun.”
Then came the real deal for the Proteas. There is a degree of uncertainty about the identity of her attack. The first-choice trio of Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi and Anrich Nortje are out this week, although Rabada was in the outfield at lunch on the first day to bowl on a practice strip. Having sat out the decider of the Twenty20 series with England due to an ankle injury, this was clearly an opportunity to gauge where he was at. He still looked far from comfortable, taking a lot of breaks between each delivery, all under the guidance of bowling coach Charl Langeveldt. As such, the onus was on the players to position themselves as the best alternative, which proved difficult under clear skies, on a track that didn’t do too much of the direction, and a dry outfield.
Olivier was the pick of the bowlers, taking two wickets – for 39 from his 10 overs – with the only two deliveries from the fast bowlers harboring any real misjudgments. Keaton Jennings (27) was pulled at a slight angle back to a straight delivery that nipped away and brought to Jansen at gully. A slightly shorter ball, with nip the other way, did for Lawrence.
In between, Dom Sibley misread an arm ball from Maharaj, ending a thrilling 48 off 62, at which point the former Test openers put up a platform of 144 between them.
By the time Lawrence was gone, the third-wicket partnership with Brook ended on 79, 223 was on the board, and it was swelling with 56 in the 71 deliveries left to stumps. Brook (form) and Duckett (recognition) have their own personal agendas going into day three of this match through a more holistic top-down approach.
Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor for ESPNcricinfo
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