England captain Ben Stokes has insisted there will be no let-up in the team’s attacking approach as they look to bounce back in the second Test against South Africa starting Thursday.
The hosts have arrived at Manchester’s Old Trafford 1-0 down in a three-match series following a chastening innings and 12-run defeat inside three days by the Proteas at Lord’s last week.
That was their first defeat under the new leadership duo of Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum following a run of four successive wins with an aggressive approach dubbed ‘Bazball’, characterised by attacking batting that saw England chase down stiff fourth innings targets against New Zealand and India during the past two months.
England, however, had no answer to a formidable South Africa pace attack led by Kagiso Rabada at Lord’s, where they were dismissed for just 165 and 149 in their two innings, although a lack of domestic red-ball cricket since last month’s win over India, was arguably more responsible than ‘Bazball’ for a clatter of wickets.
And a rare double failure by Joe Root meant England have not won a Test when the star batsman has not made a fifty for more than two years.
All-rounder Stokes, who took over as captain after close friend Root had presided over just one win in 17 Tests, was in no mood to change tack after just one loss.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “We know well that when we perform to the capabilities that we’re capable of, then we can go out and put on an incredible performance, like everybody’s seen in the four games before.”
Former New Zealand captain McCullum said England’s problem at Lord’s had been a lack of attack rather than too much cavalier cricket.
“I think they were perhaps a touch timid,” he said. “We approach the game with a clear mentality about the way we want to play.
“It’s not always going to work. As we said at the time, you’ve got to buckle up for the ride. It’s not nice at times like this but we’ll come back strong.”
There are, however, legitimate questions over the form of opening batsman Zak Crawley who, after another two low scores at Lord’s, is now averaging a mere 16.4 across 10 Test innings this season.
England, however, seem determined to stick with the 24-year-old Kent right-hander, backed in bizarre fashion by McCullum when the coach said: “I look at a guy like Zak and his skill-set is not to be a consistent cricketer.”
As for their bowling, England may consider recalling Ollie Robinson in place of Matthew Potts to a seam attack that lacked sharpness and penetration at Lord’s, where South Africa cemented their position at the top of the World Test Championship table.
No Proteas batsman managed a century in the match but a collective effort led by opener Sarel Erwee got them to a competitive total of 326.
Undeniably gifted batsman Aiden Markram came out of the match, however, with an average of under 10 from his last 10 Test innings.
The uncapped Ryan Rickelton, in form for English county side Northamptonshire, could be given a Test debut if Markram is dropped.
South Africa spinner Keshav Maharaj, asked Tuesday if the Proteas had struck a psychological blow against England by winning the first Test so emphatically, replied: “I’d like to think so.”
The left-armer added: “I think England have played some really good cricket and fought themselves out of tough situations to win Test matches and series in the last year.”
South Africa captain Dean Elgar made it clear before the series he was still a believer in Test cricket’s fundamentals for all the ‘Bazball’ hype surrounding England.
Elgar also demonstrated a nice line in tactical innovation when his decision to bring Maharaj on early in England’s second innings was rewarded by the spinner taking two top-order wickets.
The Proteas have become a highly effective Test team since Elgar became their skipper 18 months ago.
“I think we know what to do and go about our business a lot better,” said Maharaj. “And there’s more clarity and role definition within the team.
“I think that’s been Dean’s mantra from the time he’s taken over as the Test captain.”