Ben Stokes suffers first defeat since becoming England captain as his side are walloped by South Africa in First Test
BEN STOKES suffered a crushing defeat – his first since becoming England captain – but insisted: “I’m not going to throw the toys out the pram.”
There is not the remotest suggestion, either, that England under Stokes and head coach Brendon McCullum are having second thoughts about their ultra-attacking style.
Bazball is here to stay all the time they are running this England team. If anything, Stokes reckoned his players were not aggressive enough in the First Test at Lord’s.
That’s saying something after his team were destroyed by an innings and 12 runs in a total of just 171.5 overs – less than two days’ of playing time.
Stokes explained: “The message from me and Baz will be…did we commit to everything in the way we committed to the first four Tests of the summer?
“If everyone can say, yes, 100 per cent, and we just didn’t execute, then things are good. We’ll move on to the next Test match.
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“Whatever we threw at South Africa, whether batting or bowling, they seemed to counteract. You must give them a lot of credit.
“It was an off game for us and that’s absolutely fine. It’s not something I’m going to be throwing our toys out of the pram over.
“I like to ride a wave of whatever comes, whether it be success or failure. We have two Tests left. If we hold on to this for too long and carry baggage into the next game, we’re already one step behind South Africa. I want us to be a team that’s one step ahead.”
This is undoubtedly shuddering blow to the momentum gained in the first half of the Test summer with four straight wins over New Zealand and India.
And the way they crumbled in both innings was alarming – no matter how powerful the Proteas’ pace attack.
But it would be wrong to describe it as a Bazball balls-up. The plain fact is that England were beaten by a better team and would have lost no matter what tactics they employed.
Sure, there were a couple of poor shots – Alex Lees in the first innings and Zak Crawley in the second, for example – that might have been prompted by the desire to be aggressive but generally England’s batsmen were dismissed by top-class bowling.
Anrich Nortje bowled a string of thunderbolts and had Jonny Bairstow, Alex Lees and Ben Foakes caught behind in the space of ten balls without conceding a run.
They were got out legitimately with speed and skill and, in the case of Foakes, exploiting a wariness against the hard ball steaming towards him.
It was clear that England’s early-summer wins were built on Bairstow’s five freakish innings and the brilliance of Joe Root.
Well, they scored just 32 runs between them here and no other England batsman was able to fill the void although Ollie Pope’s 73 in the first innings was the joint top score in the match.
England began their second innings with a deficit of 161 runs and Proteas skipper Dean Elgar produced a masterstroke by introducing left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj for the eighth over – and he prompted removed both Crawley and Pope.
We have a little work to do, but you don’t go from being a good team to a bad one overnight. We won’t overreact.
Crawley was lbw attempting to sweep Maharaj’s third ball but he seems certain to keep his place at the top of the order for next week’s Second Test at Old Trafford despite a total collapse in his form and confidence.
Part of the Bazball philosophy is to back players to the hilt, perhaps beyond all reason and logic.
Root was caught in the slips when he prodded towards the ball with hard hands. Normally, Root’s more gentle touch would have allowed the ball to bounce before reaching the fielder.
Stuart Broad had some fun with 35 from 29 balls and he’d earlier held a spectacular, leaping one-handed catch at mid-on from the third delivery of the day.
Stokes could not produce another single-handed miracle and perished to a catch on the mid-wicket boundary.
McCullum insisted: “We have a little work to do, but you don’t go from being a good team to a bad one overnight. We won’t overreact.
“As we said at the outset, you have to buckle up for the ride. We’ll come back stronger. Both Stokesy and I are firm about how we want this team to play and the direction we think we can take it. We just have to polish up a few of those areas.
“The conditions didn’t allow us to play with the same freedom but you’ve got to adapt and try to absorb pressure. We didn’t absorb the pressure as well as we wanted.”
The warped schedule did not help, either, and meant South Africa were probably better-prepared than England. Broad and Jimmy Anderson entered the match not having bowled a competitive ball since July 4.
Elgar added: “I didn’t wake up this morning thinking I’d be doing a press conference before five o’clock, that’s for sure. I’ll make sure we don’t go into a comfort zone because I know where complacency can get you in international sport.”