If there were any doubts about England’s aggressive Test cricket style seeping through the ranks below the national team, they were dispelled by the England Lions under a cloudless Canterbury sky as they did their best to put South Africa ahead of the first in the ground to grind Testing at Lord next week.
The fanfare call from Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum for the homegrown players to embrace the free-spirited batting technique of Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, Ben Stokes and the rest of the England Test side was really heard in Kent as the England Lions tallyed 672 runs in their first innings against South Africa, led by the lively centuries of Harry Brook and Ben Duckett.
Brook, banging on the door of a starting spot in England’s XI, showed his wares with an entertaining 140 of 170 runs, largely in a partnership with Duckett, who looted 145 of 168 in a 191-run partnership that may have left South Africa bowlers feel somewhat relieved that this tour match does not have the first-class status that would be reflected in their records.
Throughout the week, England players have repeated the national team’s mantra of self-expression and liberation that inspired it; It’s as if a switch had been flipped and the results will no doubt please Brendon McCullum, who was an avid spectator at the Spitfire site.
“It summed it up perfectly yesterday afternoon and today, I think,” said Ben Duckett. “You might not have seen half the shots that we’ve seen in the last day and a half in an England Lions Red Ball game and it’s people expressing themselves and pressuring people.
Duckett was dropped three times during his innings when he was at 59, 70, and 95. The second time around he reversed Maharaj only for Glenton Stuurman to score a reasonably direct chance at the deep back point, but the change in attitude meant he was comfortable taking the risk of such shots even when the catch had been made.
“I got dropped on the reverse sweep and I know if I had come back today the whole locker room would have said it was a great option for me,” Duckett said. “That kind of support, if you want to take a risk and it doesn’t work out when it’s your option, then it’s quite nice to have that support.
“I think if that support is in the dressing room, most of the time you’re going to go and play that shot well.
“So yes, it’s just an exciting time to be an English cricketer.”
South Africa, who are 180 runs behind and were 59-3 at stumps on Day 3, know this is a dress rehearsal for the style of play they are likely to face at Lord’s and Aiden Markram, who won 6-91 from 16 overs, believes the match is good preparation for the first test, albeit a tough one.
“I think it’s going to be a lot because their Test team have been playing this type of cricket for a while now and have done really well in this aggressive way,” said Markram. “So it was nice for us to be put under that pressure today and to see how the lads reacted to it.
“The lads were a bit rusty coming into this game but hopefully throughout the build up of the test series they can keep getting better and make plans and then execute on those plans when they get pumped about how the English play.”
Duckett, who plundered 21 boundaries in his innings and was particularly aggressive on spin, believes England’s aggressive style could see South Africa and other teams hitting fire with fire and leave them vulnerable, although it was likely tired heads who contributing to the loss were three early wickets in South Africa’s second innings, two of which fell to Ollie Robinson.
“Yes, possibly,” Duckett said. “And I think you know, when you play like that all day and you just go that far ahead, and I think they watch you hit and probably think, oh, this court is flat.
“And then we have our fresh bowlers like Olly Robinson who come to bowling as they were, I think we’d always get a few tonight.
“But you know, when you’re that far ahead of the game it’s never as flat as it seems when you have to get out there and you’re 230 behind, so I think the first three days we’ve just been great.”
But Markram said South Africa had already spoken out about not falling into the trap of playing England’s game.
“Yeah, I think teams could fall into that trap,” admitted Markram. “We’ve actually talked about it before, about not falling into the trap. Supporting the way we play, supporting our processes and game plans especially when it comes to the racquet and not feeling like we have to play the way they play.
“I don’t think we should try to repeat that. I think we have our own brand that we play like we’ve been doing for a few years now and I think we need to support that.
“Their brand of cricket is in their dressing room and that’s what they’re doing again and we have another brand and I don’t think I see our team falling into the trap of playing the same way they do.
“There is a lot of experience in the dressing room and that experience can tell you not to fall into that trap.
“I think inexperience could potentially lead you into that trap, but we’ve had really good conversations about it like playing our own game plan and the way we play the game and we’ll have to see how it plays out after that .