Ben Stokes praises ‘relentless’ South Africa but refuses to panic after defeat

Ben Stokes promised he was “not going to throw my toys out of the pram” after the resurgence of England’s Test side under his leadership was emphatically derailed by South Africa at Lord’s.

After England slumped to defeat inside three days – the first of which was mostly lost to rain – by an innings and 12 runs their coach, Brendon McCullum, said some defeats were inevitable given the team’s aggressive gameplan.

“As we said at the outset, you have to buckle up for the ride,” he said. “The four Tests that we won recently, we were behind the game in each of them and were able to get ourselves back in front and put the opposition under pressure, which allowed us to go on and win. In this game we weren’t quite able to do that and we went on to lose. It’s such fine margins. We’ll have a good look at things among the group and then recharge.”

Stokes admitted his side had been comprehensively outplayed, but was optimistic that they could level the series at Old Trafford next week. “They were just relentless,” he said. “When you’re playing international sport, some days they’re going to be better than you. Over the three days, whenever they were batting or bowling, whatever we threw at them, they seemed to counteract that. It was an off game for us, and that’s absolutely fine. It’s not something I’m going to be throwing my toys out of the pram over. We’ll move on to the next Test, and go out there and try and win.”

For many members of the England team this was a first competitive game since they beat India at Edgbaston at the start of July, but Stokes refused to blame the hiatus for their poor performance. “If you start looking at that, I would say you’re just looking at excuses,” he said. “Five weeks away for this group is obviously not ideal, but we’ve all been playing professional cricket for a number of years. We know how to play cricket. We don’t want to create an excuses-based culture. We look at it as South Africa just outperformed us.”

After bowling South Africa out for 326 on the third morning England’s attempt to recover from a 161-run first-innings deficit looked forlorn once Keshav Maharaj dismissed Zak Crawley and Ollie Pope before lunch. Thereafter they crumbled before the pace and variety of South Africa’s seam attack. “Trent Boult and Tim Southee were [also] pretty relentless,” Stokes said of the key bowlers in the New Zealand team beaten 3-0 earlier in the summer. “We were just a lot better in that series than we were today. They weren’t any more relentless [than that], they were just better than us. We haven’t performed anywhere near what we can.”

This was Dean Elgar’s 12th game as South Africa’s Test captain, and the first in which he has won the toss and chosen to bowl first. After securing victory he admitted that despite the thick cloud and gloomy forecast of the opening day he was inclined to have a bat. “I like putting runs on the board first,” he said, “but sometimes you’ve got to go horses for courses and respect the conditions. Everything was saying bowl first. I was still looking to bat first but having chats with the coaches, I think they swayed my decision and it worked out.”

Kagiso Rabada, despite being troubled by an ankle injury in the buildup, was named player of the match. “He’s an absolute machine when it comes to rising to the occasion in big matches,” Elgar said. “He put his hand up, took the bull by the horns and he ran with it.”

Victory strengthens South Africa’s position at the top of the World Test Championship table, and their chances of returning to Lord’s for the final next June. “The players shouldn’t be looking into that too much,” Elgar said. “You need to play every game for a Test side like it’s your last game. That’s my mantra. I look for room for improvement and I’m always trying to find a negative somewhere – that’s my job. But if we keep playing the way we’ve been playing, conducting ourselves on and off the field and caring for each other like we do, I think more times than not the result will look after itself.”