So this is Bouchball. It's not sexy but it's solid. It's not entirely slow, but it's mostly sensible. It's probably not going to fill the stands with young fans but with so few Tests in their future, South Africa may not have to care much about that. What they care about is whether it works and the 124-run lead suggests they're on the way to being able to declare that it does.
The key to being successful in England - and probably in most places - is to have a decent opening stand. India showed that last year when KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma shared stands of 83, 126 (scored in a winning cause at Lord's) and 97 on last year's tour. Those starts set India up for totals of 466, 364 and 278, and they weren't beaten in any of those encounters. On the basis of those numbers, Dean Elgar and Sarel Erwee can be satisfied with the 85 they put on and especially the way they saw out the toughest period against the England attack.
They did it without looking as though they were navigating landmines even though the going was pretty tough against the most reputed pair these two have faced. Elgar successfully reviewed being given out caught behind to a Stuart Broad ball he didn't hit and was dropped by Zak Crawley off Matthew Potts at second slip when he was on seven but for a batter with a reputation for inelegance, he actually played quite sweetly. He hit the full balls and survived the jaffas.
When his opposite number, Ben Stokes, came on to bowl later in the afternoon, he made his most aggressive statement, punching him up the slope and steering him through backward point for two fours in three balls. Stokes has made it his business to set the tone in the England camp and Elgar responded in kind. By taking on Stokes, he showed the rest of his line-up, none of whom have played a Test in England before, that can stand up to their opposition.
At the other end, Erwee showed the value of his years in the domestic game after taking the old-fashioned route to the Test team. He is in the 14th year of his professional career and until six months ago, he may have thought he'd finish without an international cap. But Erwee got an opportunity in New Zealand and he has held onto it tightly since.
He spent the 10 days in camp before the Test visualising what it's like to be at Lord's. Everything about it. What it feels like to see the pavilion and walk the stairs, to face a ball, to hit it, to see it go to the boundary and to hear the polite applause. He prepared himself the way a nervous newcomer would but then played like an experienced hand. He moved his feet to meet the fuller deliveries and the leg-stump half-volleys stood no chance.
All that also speaks to the line and lengths England employed early, which failed to create the same kind of pressure South Africa did on the first day. According to ESPNcricinfo's ball-by-ball data, England left 57 of the 270 deliveries they faced in their innings - that's a little more than one in every five. They were made to play at the same number of balls. South Africa's openers alone, left 70 of the 227 balls they faced, just over 30%, and defended 49. So England made South Africa's top two play as often as South Africa allowed England's line-up to watch the ball through. That's an area that England will want to sharpen up, especially given the way they responded later in the day.
In two Stokes' overs, South Africa went from looking in a position that was close to control to barely clinging on to their hard-fought lead. England set a funky field, mostly spread with a wide short fine-leg and a fine-ish short third and Stokes began to bounce Erwee, upping the ante until the South African opener could do nothing but throw his hands up and glove one high for Ben Foakes to collect. Stokes changed his length to trap Rassie van der Dussen on the knee roll and from that moment (which was also after 5pm when they were well-hydrated) the Lord's crowd came properly alive.
A wave of noise swelled and then broke every time Stokes delivered a ball. For Marco Jansen and Kyle Verreynne, with only 13 Tests between them, this would have been the most pressure either of them have been under. Verreynne also fell victim to England's short-balls-to-the-tail tactic but Jansen played with the stature of his height, not his age. His authoritative drive through backward point off Potts as the shadows grew long and the hoist over fine leg and one-bounce smash through mid-on off Stokes with minutes to go before stumps were executed with the right mix of mastery and mischief to underline his case to bat higher than his wicketkeeper, but it still leaves some questions for South Africa about the composition of their XI.
In the absence of Temba Bavuma, South Africa's line-up was always going to lack some clout but it looked particularly short when they led by only 27 runs with their last recognised batter at the crease. In picking Jansen as a lower-order bowling allrounder South Africa have created the room for five specialist bowlers - four quicks and a spinner - but they will ask themselves if they have over-resourced the bowling department by under-resourcing the batting. Keshav Maharaj added his opinion by getting himself in sight of a fifth Test fifty and then chucking it away at the end. Even with nearly 1,000 Test runs to his name, Maharaj doesn't always inspire confidence he will be consistent and with such a long tail, the limitations of Bouchball have been somewhat exposed.
While Bazball can cause self-induced implosions and quick collapses, Bouchball may look like it's getting somewhere when it may not be. At one stage, on 160 for 2, South Africa looked like they were set for a lead of 150-plus, but from 192 for 5, a lead of 50-plus seemed satisfying enough. By the end of the day, South Africa were more than 100 runs ahead, so somewhere between fold-your-arms and sit-back-satisfied to if-only-we-could-get-a-few-more.
That probably sums up what we know about Bouchball best. It's not the finished product but a work in progress. It changes and adapts in response to the situation, so maybe it will soon be criticised for being too reactive and not as proactive as it could be. That's a discussion for another day. Today, it did what it needed to. Mostly.