England v South Africa: Ben Stokes’ side must stick with Bazball despite defeat


It had to happen eventually.

The glorious cheesy dream in which England scored four incredible Test victories couldn’t last forever. Revival would ensure awakening and return to reality.

But an innings loss to South Africa at Lord’s does not mean the bubble has burst, the honeymoon is over or the ship has sunk.

Now is not the time to throw the Bazball out with the bathwater. If anything, the pumping at the hands of the Proteas was too much “old England” and not enough Bazball.

Less than three months ago, England was a mob that had forgotten how to win. Coach Brendon McCullum and captain Ben Stokes have teamed up to transform not just the results, but the individual performances of players such as Jonny Bairstow, Ollie Pope and Jack Leach.

The accusation is that England needed good fortune in their quartet of wins against New Zealand and India. A no-ball here, a lost reception there and things could have been different.

If the ifs and buts were cherries and nuts, we would all be happy at Christmas. Things happened that helped England, but that’s sport. If they had won the draw against South Africa and had the opportunity to play first, the last result could have been reversed.

It’s not to ignore the factors that helped England in those four wins – flat pitches, a batch of balls that went soft faster than chewed gum – but you don’t beat the New Zealand, Test world champions, 3-0, then stroll in a record run against India purely by luck.

England’s first defeat of the summer came as a result of their most passive performance – McCullum called it ‘shy’. It was definitely not Bazball.

As they pushed and fought their way to a second set collapse in front of a Lord’s crowd, slowly realizing the test would not see Friday night, let alone Saturday morning, England were bereft of the swash and of the loop that characterized his early season stick.

On the one hand, England were not allowed to flourish by the brilliance of the South African attack. It’s hard for hitters to beat Anrich Nortje when he plays howitzers at 94 mph, or Kagiso Rabada, whose stats – 250 Test wickets at an average of 22 with a strike rate of 40 – the rank among the greatest fast bowlers of all time. had played.

But England were not beyond reproach either. Alex Lees and Bairstow were guilty of poor shooting in the first set, Pope and Zak Crawley surrendered playing across the line to spinner Keshav Maharaj in the second.

Pace bowlers James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Matthew Potts looked collectively rusty, with only Potts bowling competitively since the win over India in early July.

England could argue that a short-ball tactic has worked against the tailenders so far this summer, but it gave South Africa momentum on the second night and was overdone on the third morning.

Because as thrilling as it can be to watch England play such electrifying cricket at the start of the season, it always felt like the real intrigue lay in how they would react to defeat.

“If you can meet triumph and disaster and treat these two impostors alike,” wrote poet Rudyard Kipling.

It’s unclear if Stokes likes Kipling, but the captain has said throughout that the message to players won’t change, regardless of the results.

England have named a squad for the first two Tests of this series, so there will be no major changes to the XI for the next outing at Old Trafford, starting on Thursday. The return of Ollie Robinson for his first international appearance since January, probably in place of Potts, seems the most likely.

The spotlight will remain on fly-half Crawley, who has now gone 14 Test innings without a half-century. Regardless of what happens in Manchester, the Kent man could also be backed to finish the series at The Oval, despite a more steadily falling batting average than the value of the pound in your pocket.

England’s support for Crawley is admirable, but one wonders if keeping him in the firing line is doing more harm than good. Constantly hoping Crawley will eventually deliver could also mean missing out on the good form of Harry Brook, who has been suggested as a possible opener even though he bats in the middle order for Yorkshire.

The success England have had this summer isn’t just down to smashing the ball to the limit or wrapping the drawstring at every opportunity.

Equally important was the shift in mindset, not sweating over what could go wrong, but questioning the glorious possibility of everything going right. Players were encouraged to release the shackles and not let fear of failure get in the way of success.

Now that a setback has happened, it will be fascinating how England bounce back.

Bazball brought them to the dance floor. They have to keep dancing with it.

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