South Africa inflicted England’s first defeat of the ‘Bazball’ era as they won the first Test by a crushing innings and 12 runs with more than two days to spare at Lord’s on Friday.
England were dismissed for 149 in their second innings before tea on the third day, with the Proteas effectively winning the game in six sessions after most of Wednesday’s first day was lost to rain.
Left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj struck twice before fast bowler Anrich Nortje followed up with a superb spell of three wickets for no runs in 10 balls as the visitors, leaders of the World Test Championship table, took a 1-0 lead in a three-match series.
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England had won all four of their previous Tests under a new leadership of captain Ben Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum, after whom ‘Bazball’ is named.
Each of those wins, however, came after batting aggressively in the fourth innings, rather than having to set a total and before this match South Africa captain Dean Elgar questioned whether a policy of all-out attack would work against his formidable bowling line-up.
But although former captain Andrew Strauss said England had folded like a “deck of cards” it wasn’t until Stokes joined forces with Stuart Broad, who hooked Nortje for six, during a seventh-wicket stand of 55 that they batted in ‘Bazball’ style.
England’s top order were simply overpowered on a sunny day during an innings that lasted just three hours and was finished inside 38 overs.
Former England captain Michael Vaughan wrote in a column for The Telegraph that McCullum’s side was “stupid at times”.
“The fact of the matter is batting first is clearly going to be an issue playing this style of cricket,” he wrote. “It’s all geared towards chasing.
“When the game isn’t set-up for them, and conditions are tougher, you wouldn’t think that this super-aggressive approach would work as well.
“England make me smile. Is it stupid at times? Yeah, it is. They’re going to do things differently to how Test cricket’s ever been played. So we had better enjoy the ride.”
South Africa now have a couple of extra days rest before the second Test at Old Trafford starts on Thursday.
Stokes, who took over as skipper from Joe Root with England having won just one of their 17 previous Tests, said it would be “silly” for him to be anything other than disappointed.
“We know, when we perform to our capabilities, we can put in some incredible performances, like everyone’s been able to see in the four games before this one,” he said.
“This isn’t a wake-up call or anything like that, just unfortunately we weren’t able to execute in the way we wanted to play this week and South Africa were better than us,” the all-rounder added.
Maharaj, who didn’t bowl at all in England’s meagre first innings 165, sparked Saturday’s slump by removing Zak Crawley and Ollie Pope during a remarkable pre-lunch spell of 2-6 in three overs.
Maharaj, brought on as early as the seventh over in a tactical coup by Elgar, struck with just his third ball when he had Crawley lbw for 13 after the struggling opener missed a sweep.
Pope, whose 73 was the lone fifty of England’s first innings, was then lbw to Maharaj off the last ball of the session.
England, 38-2 at lunch, were 57-3 soon afterwards when paceman Lungi Ngidi had star batsman Joe Root caught in the slips by Aiden Markram for six.
Jonny Bairstow came into this match having scored four hundreds in as many Tests only to be caught behind for 18 off express quick Nortje on Friday.
Left-handed opener Alex Lees, dropped on four, had ground out an unconvincing 35, fell in similar fashion.
Two balls later, England’s 86-5 became 86-6 when Ben Foakes was dismissed for a duck, a careless waft outside off stump presenting opposing gloveman Verreynne with another simple chance.
But fast bowler Kagiso Rabada, who took an excellent 5-52 in the first innings, got Broad with a clever slower ball the tailender chipped to Elgar at mid-off to end an entertaining 35 — the joint top score of the innings.
England then lost two wickets in two balls, Matthew Potts bowled by Marco Jansen before Stokes (20) was brilliantly caught in the deep by Maharaj off player of the match Rabada.
Towering left-arm quick Jansen, who earlier on Friday made 48 in South Africa’s 326, wrapped up the match emphatically by clean bowling last man James Anderson.