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

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It had to happen eventually.

The glorious cheese dream in which England romped to four incredible Test wins could not last forever. The alarm clock would provide the wake-up and a return to reality.

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

This 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 were a rabble that had forgotten how to win. Coach Brendon McCullum and captain Ben Stokes have combined to not only transform results, but the individual performances of players such as Jonny Bairstow, Ollie Pope and Jack Leach.

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

If ifs and buts were cherries and nuts, we’d all be happy at Christmas. Things happened that helped England, but that is sport. If they had won the toss against South Africa and had the opportunity to bowl first, the latest result might have been reversed.

That is not to ignore the factors that did help England in those four wins – flat pitches, a batch of balls that went soft quicker than well masticated chewing gum – but you do not beat New Zealand, the world Test champions, 3-0, then stroll a record run chase against India because of luck alone.

England’s first defeat of the summer came as a result of their most passive performance – McCullum called it “timid”. It was certainly not Bazball.

As they poked and prodded their way to a second-innings collapse in front a Lord’s crowd slowly realising the Test wouldn’t see Friday evening, let alone Saturday morning, England were devoid of the swash and buckle that characterised their early-season batting.

On the one hand, England were not allowed to flourish by the brilliance of the South African attack. It is difficult for batters to impose themselves on Anrich Nortje when he is bowling 94mph howitzers, or Kagiso Rabada, whose stats – 250 Test wickets at an average of 22 with a strike-rate of 40 – rank him among the greatest fast bowlers ever to have played.

But England were not blameless, either. Alex Lees and Bairstow were guilty of poor shots in the first innings, 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 doing any competitive bowling since the win against India at the start of July.

England might argue that a short-ball tactic has been successful against tailenders so far this summer, but it resulted in momentum being handed back to South Africa on the second evening and it was overdone on the third morning.

For as enthralling as it was to see England play such electrifying cricket at the beginning of the season, it always felt like the real intrigue lay in how they would respond to a defeat.

“If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same,” wrote the poet Rudyard Kipling.

Whether Stokes is keen on Kipling is unknown, but the captain has said all along the message to the players will not change, regardless of results.

England named a squad for the first two Tests in this series, so there will not be major alterations to the XI for the next outing at Old Trafford, beginning on Thursday. The return of Ollie Robinson for his first international appearance since January, probably in place of Potts, seems the most likely move.

The spotlight will remain on opener 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 batting average falling more steadily than the value of the pound in your pocket.

England’s support for Crawley is admirable, but there is a question whether keeping him in the firing line is doing more harm than good. Constantly hoping that Crawley will eventually deliver might 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 enjoyed this summer is not only down to crashing the ball to the boundary, or packing the slip cordon at every opportunity.

Just as important has been the shift in mentality, not sweating over what might go wrong but wondering about the glorious possibility of it going right. Players have been encouraged to free the shackles and not allow a fear of failure to get in the way of success.

Now a failure has arrived, how England bounce back will be fascinating.

Bazball brought them to the dancefloor. They must keep dancing with it.

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