BEN STOKES has taken issue with accusations of a lack of “fight” that he believes were unfairly directed at England after their 340-run defeat against South Africa in the second Investec Test.
As England prepared to battle back at The Oval after South Africa squared the four-match series last week in Joe Root’s second Test as captain, Stokes admitted they were stung by some perceived elements of the criticism of that previous performance.
The hosts lost all 20 wickets in under 100 overs at Trent Bridge, and Stokes agrees some of the flak was fair.
England’s assistant coach Paul Farbrace has confirmed, in fact, that the entire team and management staff privately accepted there was not enough fight shown in their second-innings 133 all out.
Stokes, however, does not take kindly to the implication he has picked up from others that England are guilty of a more general lack of commitment.
Asked if the criticism has stung, he said: “It does.
The whole (lack of) fight and desire that’s been thrown at us, I think, is very, very unfair – that kind of criticism is harsh, yes.England vice-captain Ben Stokes
“We can take getting a bit of criticism for our performances ... but I think any criticism on desire and fight is a little bit harsh.
“It’s almost like people are saying we don’t have the desire or the fight to play for England.”
Several critics, in the aftermath of England’s Trent Bridge trouncing, were high-profile – including former captains Nasser Hussain, bemoaning a “rubbish brand of cricket”, and Michael Vaughan, who wondered whether Root’s team were showing Test cricket its due “respect”.
Stokes does not hide from England’s failings with the bat, but does not accept there is a broader malaise.
“We didn’t adapt whatsoever in that innings,” he said.
“(But) the whole (lack of) fight and desire that’s been thrown at us, I think, is very, very unfair.
“Obviously when you get bowled out in the manner we did, it’s a very easy thing to say.
“But everyone who takes part in the game – not just the 11 but everyone in the squad, coaches –the desire, the commitment, the fight to represent your country and do well is always there.
“So I think that kind of criticism is harsh, yes.”
The suggestion could not be further from the truth, he insists, and England will be out to prove the point when the series resumes tomorrow.
“No one’s ever going to get questioned in that changing room about their fight and desire for wanting to perform for England,” Stokes said.
“It’s all about how we come back in this Test, which will prove how good a side we are.
“It’s good we managed to get time away and look back on and assess where we went wrong –and we hope we can right the wrongs this week.
“I think the biggest question is just being able to adapt better.
“We obviously didn’t quite get to grips with that in that last innings, so I think the quicker we can learn to adapt to different situations the better off we will be.”
Farbrace is unsurprisingly in agreement, although he has revealed some home truths were uttered and accepted in the dressing-room.
He said: “We know we didn’t play well enough, and every single one of us – coaches, players – everyone put their hands up after the Trent Bridge performance and said it lacked some fight, certainly in the second innings, and there were some disappointing dismissals in both innings.
“That’s something you have to take on the chin.
“When you don’t play well, and get beaten in the manner we did at Trent Bridge, you have to take the criticism that comes your way.
“You have to learn lessons. South Africa learned an awful lot of good lessons between Lord’s and Trent Bridge; maybe we didn’t learn quite as quickly.
“This is an opportunity for us to do so.”
As for how England can play more effectively to their strengths, under encouragement from head coach Trevor Bayliss to be positive whenever possible in both attack and defence, Farbrace added: “It’s down to individuals – each one has to assess how they play.
“We know how the team wants to play ... but each individual is encouraged to go and play their way.
“There is a fine line between being positive and aggressive, and being reckless. We had some reckless dismissals, and we also had some disappointing defensive dismissals in the last game.”
England’s shot selection attracted most criticism in Nottingham.
But Farbrace said: “Not all of them were people playing big shots and getting caught on the rope.
“We had people caught around the crease, and being bowled, through perhaps being not quite as positive with their footwork and clinical as they could have been in defence. But you trust each batsman to go out and play their way ... that won’t change.”