There were a few memorable moments in those measly 37 overs possible during the day.
Stuart Broad bowling Kagiso Rabada with a beauty.
A valiant, fighting knock by Temba Bavuma, the sight of the triumphing underdog that is one of the charms of cricket.
Vernon Philander, discharged from the hospital, coming bravely in at No 11, and striking two boundaries. One off the middle the other off the edge, but both resounding with pluck.
And then the splendid moment of Toby Roland-Jones picking up a five-for on debut, reaping full harvest of the time-tasted trade of running in and hitting the seam, ending the South African resistance, earning a 178-run lead.
The ball with which Morne Morkel bowled Alastair Cook was also a special one. The stumps of this former England captain is not the easiest to hit, but Morkel’s delivery moved in and then jagged away. Not much that Cook could have done about it.
Next, the back to the wall, against the all-odds fight, helped along by loads of fortune.
Another charming facet of cricket. England were on top but Keaton Jennings was fighting for his life. With all of 44 runs in 5 innings this summer.
He inside-edged a ball almost on to his leg stump and saw it squirt away for four. The following delivery flew head high to Dean Elgar at third slip, somehow slipping through the hands and trickling to the fence. After an interruption because of weather, Jennings found the fence again, twice more off the edge, one of them precariously close to his stumps. His career is still hanging on, to the coattails of fortune. Towards the end of the day, he did strike a couple of boundaries off the middle, and is still standing with 34 against his name. But the innings has so far been touched by chance rather than conviction.
Tom Westley, on the other hand, impressed with his initiative yet again, striking a flurry of boundaries before incessant rain drove players off the ground for the final time. His 28 runs were gathered with the help of 6 boundaries, 3 off Morkel, 3 off Philander, and all of them were hit with flourish and flair.
However, through all this, the performer of the day was the infamous London weather.
The day dawned with the eagerly awaited chapters of a cracking new cricket story. Episodes slated to go hot and smoking to the press. And all that was rendered soggy by rain later ripped off as action-less moments from the book of cricket.
With the showers drenching the ground, many a delightful turn of events may have been washed away halfway into the twirl. These are these days when the elements, the presiding geniuses of the game, hold court. The spectators wait — built up by a steady diet of incessant previews. Millions of eyes remain trained on the skies, willing the clouds to clear. Forlorn fingers click F5, waiting for the websites to announce the arrival of the umpires on the wicket.
It is one of the eternal charms of Test Cricket that, like reality, it is sometimes compromised by the conditions. Sure, it is frustrating, but so is life. Few other sports would accommodate interruptions of opened up skies with a curtailed, but unchanged schedule.
That the run of play can change, become brisker, stagnate and sometimes stop altogether because of the rise and fall of the readings in the barometer is a defining feature of this king of all games. Accounts, anecdotes and articles have been scripted by pens dipped in the inky skies as much as they have been inspired by the mastery of the cricketers when washed by the sunshine.
The interruptions due to weather—that final unconquered frontier that still stands in the way of relentless non-stop entertainment—are perhaps the only times during ceaseless action when one is shaken into inactive reflection.
And South Africa may do well to use this time to think hard, really hard. They had come into the game after the star turns at Trent Bridge, the big victory placing them on the favourite’s seat. But in this match, they have been found out against the moving ball and helpful conditions.
The London weather is fickle, but there seems to be a forecast for sun tomorrow. And enough time remains in the match for it to be played to finish in spite of these terrible and tiresome interruptions. The batsmen need to pull out something rather special if they are to save the match, let alone try to win it.
Amla, the one who scored a triple hundred here a few years earlier, and du Plessis, who has had his successful experiments with blockathons, may be the ones they are looking up to. But the others will also need to pull their weight if the situation is to be retrieved. Behind by 252, 9 English second innings wickets remaining, men like Ben Stokes itching to get out and belt the ball, and the conditions not really getting easier, they have a lot of catching up to do.
Right now, the rain notwithstanding, England remain perched on the driver’s seat.