England aim to reignite early summer fire but will be wary of South Africa | England v South Africa 2022

For those who prefer their international cricket played with a red ball rather than a white, the last six weeks have required a lot of patience. Ben Stokes has been among them, with England’s Test captain itching to rekindle the magic that lit up the first half of the summer through four hard-fought wins against New Zealand and India.

To that end, Stokes held a team meeting on Sunday as his players came together ahead of the first Test against South Africa which starts on Wednesday; a refresher course intended to confirm the positive ethos that he and head coach, Brendon McCullum, demand.

“That’s the last time I’ll ever write on a whiteboard,” he joked after their final training session on Tuesday. “I needed to ask how to spell ‘environment’.”

Stokes may be unsure of the exact letters of the word, but seems to have a good grasp of the meaning. Players, young and old, are clearly enjoying the new ethos of relaxed training sessions, aggressive play and selective loyalty under his leadership. Winning obviously helps here, but their positive approach to each day and session has been an obvious difference from the anxiety of the last year of the previous regime.

Of course, there have been sliding door moments along the way, be it Colin de Grandhomme’s no-ball at Lord’s, dropped catches at Trent Bridge or New Zealand’s failure to review an lbw call against Jamie Overton at Headingley, just five runs to a score of 97 that constituted half of a match-deciding seventh-wicket stand of 241. England have also benefited from the particularly heavenly form of Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root, the pair making hay against what was a substandard batch of Dukes balls.

But they have also wriggled out of some tight spots in characteristic fashion, such as posting 553 against New Zealand at Trent Bridge or overcoming a first-innings deficit of 132 against India at Edgbaston. Four goals they may have earlier fouled up have also evaporated, not that Stokes is too fussed about the end result. “Honestly, if we’d been down 4-0, I wouldn’t be sitting here and changing the way I’m asking the boys to go out and play,” he said.

The hope now, he said, was that this would filter down to the county game and energize the support base for both England and the longer format as a whole.

Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson (left) are expected to lead England’s attack again at Lord’s. Photo: Gareth Copley/Getty Images

The question asked by many in response is how England will fare when they bat first, and how sustainable this is in the long term. After the diet of white-ball internationals and hundreds comes a three-match series against South Africa, the leading side in the World Test Championship, and thus the final exam. That said, a little extra patience may still be required. The latest heatwave has turned London’s parks and commons as beige as one of Richie Benaud’s jackets – Lord’s, lush green, has remained immune – but the forecast for day one is not so bright.

Dean Elgar, a South Africa captain whose batting is likely to deflate the synonyms for “gritty” over the next four weeks, is among the skeptics about “Bazball”. He said he is ready to play when the numbers on the scoreboard spin like the wheels of a fruit machine, but while he insisted he was not criticizing the efforts of New Zealand and India in the field, he believes his attack will act as an antidote overall. . “I would like to think from a bowling point of view, our bowlers are big, tall, fast and strong off-spinners and we have ticked the spin department,” he said.

England (confirmed): Alex Lees, Zak Crawley, Ollie Pope, Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes (c), Ben Foakes (wk), Jack Leach, Matt Potts, Stuart Broad, Jimmy Anderson.

South Africa (possible): Dean Elgar (c), Sarel Erwee, Keegan Petersen, Aidan Markram, Rassie van der Dussen, Kyle Verryenne (wk), Marco Jansen, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje.

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Quick introduction

Lord’s team

Performance

England (confirmed): Alex Lees, Zak Crawley, Ollie Pope, Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes (c), Ben Foakes (wk), Jack Leach, Matt Potts, Stuart Broad, Jimmy Anderson.

South Africa (possible): Dean Elgar (c), Sarel Erwee, Keegan Petersen, Aidan Markram, Rassie van der Dussen, Kyle Verryenne (wk), Marco Jansen, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje.

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Among them is the classy Kagiso Rabada, lightly spared but expected to be fit after an ankle injury, likewise Lungi Ngidi and tactful Anrich Nortje who also sat out the final warm-up against the Lions. If selected, newcomer Marco Jansen offers a left-arm angle from a 6ft 7in frame – although his required deployment at No.7 would look high – and they have two experienced spinners to choose from in Keshav Maharaj and Simon Harmer. The former is likely to get the nod at Lord’s despite a Lions rout, but the latter – a proven expert on English surfaces – should feature at some point.

Stokes described England’s selection as “easy”, their only adjustment coming via a return for Ben Foakes behind the stumps after missing Edgbaston with Covid-19. While Ollie Robinson appears sharp and sharp again after early-season fitness problems, Stokes and McCullum feel Stuart Broad’s interventions – such as the ‘team hat-trick’ against New Zealand this morning on this ground – offset his record 15 wickets with 38 this summer. If Broad and Jimmy Anderson open the bowling in both innings, they will have done so in 200 innings in Test cricket, while the former is also one wicket away from 100 Test victims at Lord’s.

Both veterans will be keen to see if the latest Dukes balls to come out of the Walthamstow factory hold up better than those used in the past – the downside being that if they are harder than before, more questions may be asked of the batsmen.

In another era, a player like Zak Crawley – averaging 17.75 so far this summer – would be considered playing for his place. But Stokes was having none of it, praising the right-hander’s selfless approach and describing his 100-run opening stand with Alex Lees during the run chase at Edgbaston as his favorite passage to date.

Such a response is pretty much the Stokes way these days. He may have retired from one-day internationals recently and decided the board isn’t for him, but when it comes to England’s approach to Test cricket, the captain’s opinion is very firm.

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