“Don’t throw baseball out with the bathwater”

"Don't throw baseball out with the bathwater"

It had to happen eventually.

The glorious cheese dream in which England achieved four incredible Test victories could not last forever. The alarm clock would provide the awakening and the return to reality.

But a defeat by 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 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 mob that had forgotten how to win. Coach Brendon McCullum and captain Ben Stokes have combined to transform not only the results but also the individual performances of players like Jonny Bairstow, Ollie Pope and Jack Leach.

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

If the sixes and buts were cherries and nuts, we’d all be happy at Christmas. Things happened that helped England, but that’s sport. Had they won the toss against South Africa and had the chance to bat first, the last result could have been reversed.

That’s not to ignore the factors that helped England to those four wins – flat pitches, a batch of balls that softened faster than well-chewed gum – but you don’t beat New Zealand, the world Test champions , 3-0, then strolling a record chase against India just by luck.

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

As they trudged on and on towards a second-innings collapse in front of a Lord’s crowd that was slowly realizing that the Test would not be seen on Friday evening, let alone Saturday morning, England lacked the scale and the buckle that characterized his baptism at the beginning of the season.

For one thing, the brilliance of the South African attack did not let England thrive. It’s hard for batsmen to get the better of Anrich Nortje when he’s bowling 94mph shells, or Kagiso Rabada, whose stats – 250 Test wickets at an average of 22 with a strike rate of 40 – put him among the best fast bowlers ever. they have played

But England was not blameless either. Alex Lees and Bairstow were guilty of poor shots in the first innings, Pope and Zak Crawley surrendered playing through the line to off-spinner Keshav Maharaj in the second.

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

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

Because as thrilling as it was to watch England play such electrifying cricket at the start of the season, it always seemed that the real intrigue lay in how they would respond to defeat.

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

It is not known whether Stokes is keen on Kipling, but the captain has said throughout that the message to the players will not change, regardless of results.

England 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, which starts on Thursday. The return of Ollie Robinson for his first international appearance since January, probably in place of Potts, looks the most likely move.

The focus will continue on the Crawley opener, 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, even though his batting average is falling more consistently than the value of the pound in his pocket.

England’s support for Crawley is admirable, but there is the question of whether keeping him in the firing line is doing more harm than good. Constantly waiting for Crawley to eventually deliver could also mean missing out on the fine form of Harry Brook, who has been tipped as a potential opener even though he bats in the middle order for Yorkshire.

England’s success this summer is not just about smashing the ball to the boundary or packing the slip at every opportunity.

Just as important has been the change in mindset, not sweating over what could go wrong, but wondering about the glorious possibility that it could go right. Players have been encouraged to release the shackles and not allow the fear of failure to stand in the way of success.

Now has come a failure, how the recovery of England will be fascinating.

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

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