Joe Root declared he has "never had more fun playing professional cricket" after England's terrific red-ball form continued with a 2-1 series victory over South Africa.

Having recorded memorable triumphs over New Zealand and India since Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum took over as the side's captain and coach partnership, England enjoyed further success as they sealed a nine-wicket victory over the Proteas at The Oval on Monday.

England have now claimed four consecutive series wins over South Africa, and have won six of their seven Tests under the new regime.

They have also earned widespread praise for their adventurous style under McCullum – dubbed 'Bazball' – and Root has been impressed by their rapid progress.  

"It's been absolute class," the former skipper said. "It's been great to be part of, so much fun to play the way we have played, and to win six out of seven is a reflection of the quality with which we've played. 

"It makes the winter and beyond look very exciting for this team. To know there's still more potential and areas we can improve is the most exciting part of it. 

"We're definitely not the finished article, but to see the strides we've made in such a short space of time has been a breath of fresh air. 

"I'm buzzing about it, to be honest, looking forward to the next series already!

"I've never had more fun playing professional cricket. Honestly, it is hard to put into words. You turn up every day, and you're very excited about what's going to happen. It's the unknown. 

"It's quite a strange feeling to have played 120-odd games, still to have that feeling when you turn up every day. 

"It's a really good place to be. It keeps you very hungry and motivated. You can bounce off the energy of everybody else who is in the same mindset."

Root then compared England's development to that of the country's one-day side, who won the 2019 World Cup following a change in style under the captaincy of Eoin Morgan.

"Some of the things we'd never seen before in Test cricket happened in a short space of time. It's nice to know what we're capable of," he added. 

"It almost feels like - I hate drawing the comparison, but there is a small feeling of what it was like when we started to make those really big scores in the white-ball team. 

"That's the exciting thing - what is the limit, how far can we go? 

"You look at what that team has achieved over a period of time. I know it is early days and a lot of different elements to Test cricket, compared to the white-ball format, but it is very exciting that there is the same sort of vibe around, in my mind anyway."

England captain Ben Stokes was proud of his team's attitude after seeing them secure a series win against South Africa at The Oval on Monday.

Starting the day needing just 33 runs with all 10 wickets remaining in their second innings, England took just 5.3 overs to reach their target of 130, sealing a 2-1 win in the three-Test series.

Alex Lees (39) was the only batsman to fall, trapped lbw by Kagiso Rabada, but his fellow opener Zak Crawley (69 not out) and Ollie Pope (11no) saw the hosts home.

It was England's sixth win in their last seven Test matches, and Stokes – who was named player of the series – outlined how pleased he was with the way the team has embraced the attacking mindset promoted by him and head coach Brendon McCullum.

"It has been a great series for us as a team," he told Sky Sports.

"It has been a series where we haven't had any real individual standout performances, but different people throughout the series have put their hands up in crucial periods for us.

"For me, it is about the clarity of the decisions. Me and Brendon are the guys who are sending this message to this group of players, I said to the lads in the dressing room the other day that the person who is delivering the message can only do so much."

Ollie Robinson returned during the series for the first time since an underwhelming Ashes series in January, and was named player of the match after claiming 7-89 with the ball across both South Africa innings, including five-for in the first.

"It has been a really enjoyable comeback for myself and the team," the bowler said to Sky Sports. 

"The experience over the last few weeks has been really enjoyable and it has just been great to be with the lads again. 

"It is nice to get where I am at the moment but I don't think I am the finished article by any means."

England enjoyed a fantastic day at The Oval to close in on victory in the third and series-deciding Test against South Africa.

In the hunt for a fourth consecutive Test series win against the Proteas, England bowled and batted superbly on Sunday to leave them requiring just 33 runs on day five with all 10 wickets still in hand.

The hosts wanted to get the win wrapped up early when Alex Lees (32 not out) and Zak Crawley (57 no) powered them to within touching distance of victory, but bad light stopped play to the frustration of a full house and England captain Ben Stokes.

England had started the day at the crease but secured only a 40-run lead, requiring Stokes (3-38) to lead the England attack in their response, making the breakthrough when he drew an edge from Sarel Erwee (26).

Stuart Broad (3-45) also contributed handily, even if his first wicket – moving him past Glenn McGrath into fifth in the all-time list – came as Dean Elgar opted not to review an incorrect lbw decision.

James Anderson lured Keegan Petersen into an edge to Ollie Pope, then Broad exploited a weakness in Ryan Rickelton's defence.

Ollie Robinson's 50th and 51st Test wickets further diminished South Africa's hopes, before Stokes capped a draining spell with dismissals either side of tea, delivering a beauty to Marco Jansen (4) and finding an edge from Kagiso Rabada (0).

Broad and Anderson completed the job to leave South Africa 169 all out and set a target of 130, although England then survived a series of early scares.

Rash work from Lees saw him put down by Jansen, only narrowly escape when he appeared to be run out and loop a wild shot just beyond Keshav Maharaj.

Lees and Crawley soon settled, though, with the latter lashing his way to 50 in 36 balls before the umpires called time, much to England's chagrin.

Stoic Stokes leads by example

England's captain was clearly struggling with that troublesome, persistent left knee injury, but he kept himself in the attack late in the second session.

That paid dividends with the brilliant dismissal of Jansen that brought on tea, the swing on the delivery leaving the batsman with little chance as it knocked off leg stump, and Stokes carried on that form after the break when he sent Rabada packing. 

Those wickets came in the ninth over of a marathon 11-over spell, and Stokes was clearly in pain by the end of it, requiring treatment for the efforts that brought England to the brink of a sixth win in seven Tests under Brendon McCullum.

 

Broad joins Anderson at the top

Broad's first wicket of the innings might have come in bizarre fashion, but it saw him surpass Australia great McGrath as Test cricket's second-most successful seam bowler.

Partner in crime Anderson is the only paceman to have taken more wickets than Broad in the longest format, and Sunday bizarrely marked four years to the day since the 40-year-old had himself passed McGrath against India.

Ben Stokes has maintained that he and Alex Hales share the objective "to win the World Cup" after the Nottinghamshire batter was recalled to the England squad ahead of the T20 World Cup.

Hales has not played for England in three years since being taken out of the squad for the ODI World Cup in 2019 for failing a recreational drug test, and was not named in the initial squad for the upcoming T20 edition.

But a freak injury to Jonny Bairstow while playing golf last week has led to Hales being recalled for the tournament, as well as the squad for the T20 tour of Pakistan, which starts later this month.

Stokes' relationship with Hales is said to have declined after both were involved in a brawl outside a Bristol nightclub in 2017

But England Test captain Stokes acknowledged the quality Hales brings to the team.

"Alex is definitely one of the best T20 players in the world and unfortunately with what happened with Jonny we had to call another player up," Stokes told reporters.

"Alex is definitely one of the guys that bowlers don’t want to be bowling at in the T20 format."

However, Stokes was quiet when asked about their current relationship, adding: "My goal, Alex’s goal and everyone else’s goal who is part of that squad is to win the World Cup."

Ben Stokes believes England have added a rare talent to their side for the Test series decider with South Africa, with Harry Brook set to come into the team.

Brook is poised to make his Test debut at The Oval as England aim to seal their second series win under Stokes' captaincy, having claimed a 3-0 whitewash of New Zealand earlier in the year.

The right-hander will replace Yorkshire team-mate Jonny Bairstow, who was ruled out because of a freak injury suffered on the golf course that will also keep him out of the T20 World Cup.

Brook has thrived in all formats of the game for his county and has seven centuries and 17 half-centuries to his name in first-class cricket.

He also scored 140 in a match against the touring South African party for the England Lions last month, and Stokes was effusive in his praise of Brook ahead of his bow in the longest format.

"There's just things that stand out about certain players, like the time they have at the crease, the shots they play," Stokes said.

"There's just something that stands out that puts them above other people you see playing. He's shown this summer when he's been playing for Yorkshire and the Superchargers [in the Hundred] the skill he has.

"The way he operates, the way he wants to go out and dominate is very rare. He's a huge talent and he has to go out there and show everybody what he can do."

South Africa captain Dean Elgar, however, gives little weight to Brook's innings in the tour match, making it clear that the Test arena and the decider of a series that has seen each side win a match by an innings represents an entirely different proposition.

"You can bat like that in a four-day game or a County Championship game but this is Test cricket," Elgar said. "There are a lot of things that put a stop to you as a player, whether it’s the crowd, the cameras, whatever the case is.

"Brooky, I've played quite a few games against him, being around the county circuit. He's a good player, no doubt.

"He got a few runs against us but, again, this is Test cricket and we've got our fast bowlers now who didn't bowl against him in Kent, so I'm not reading too much into that. This is Test cricket, it will humble you as a player and a person. Hopefully he doesn't do what he did against us in Canterbury.

"I can't blow too much smoke for the opposition, I'm not there to do that. But I just know the environment and this is the big league now."

England seeking four in a row

The omens for a South Africa away win are not good.

England have a chance to register their fourth consecutive multigame bilateral men's Test series win against South Africa, it will be the third time in the history of this fixture that the hosts have won as many consecutive multigame bilateral men's Test series against the Proteas; South Africa last won such a series in July 2012.

Additionally, South Africa have just one win from their 15 matches against England at The Oval.

Leach eyes century

Jack Leach could well be England's match-winner if they are bowling last, and he will have extra motivation to run through the South Africa line-up.

The spinner needs five more for 100 wickets in men's Tests for England. He would become the 49th player to achieve this feat for his country; Leach has taken five or more wickets in a match nine times in his Test career.

Chris Woakes and Mark Wood have been passed fit to make England's squad for the T20 World Cup, which includes Test captain Ben Stokes.

Woakes had previously been a doubt for the October-November tournament due to knee surgery, while Wood required an operation on his elbow.

But both men have made Jos Buttler's 15-man group for the World Cup and the prior three-match tour of Australia.

Woakes and Wood were also included in a larger travelling party for the September tour of Pakistan, which was also confirmed on Friday.

Chris Jordan and Liam Livingstone, who have respective finger and ankle injuries, will skip that series as they have been granted more time to recuperate, but both are still on course to feature at the World Cup.

Stokes – still engaged in a Test series against South Africa – also will not face Pakistan but will make the World Cup, returning to Twenty20 International cricket for the first time since March 2021.

Since then, Stokes has taken a break from cricket to look after his mental health, returned as Test skipper and retired from ODIs to help manage his workload.

The plan was always for Stokes to still feature at this year's T20 World Cup, and he is indeed involved.

Limited-overs captain Buttler is another whose fitness will be assessed carefully, however, with a calf problem meaning Moeen Ali will deputise as skipper for the start of the Pakistan series.

The squad for that tour includes five new faces in Jordan Cox, Tom Helm, Will Jacks, Olly Stone and Luke Wood.

England squad for T20 World Cup and Australia series:

Jos Buttler (Lancashire), Moeen Ali (Worcestershire), Jonathan Bairstow (Yorkshire), Harry Brook (Yorkshire), Sam Curran (Surrey), Chris Jordan (Surrey), Liam Livingstone (Lancashire), Dawid Malan (Yorkshire), Adil Rashid (Yorkshire), Phil Salt (Lancashire), Ben Stokes (Durham), Reece Topley (Surrey), David Willey (Yorkshire), Chris Woakes (Warwickshire), Mark Wood (Durham).

Travelling reserves:

Liam Dawson (Hampshire), Richard Gleeson (Lancashire), Tymal Mills (Sussex).

England squad for Pakistan series:

Jos Buttler (Lancashire), Moeen Ali (Worcestershire), Harry Brook (Yorkshire), Jordan Cox (Kent), Sam Curran (Surrey), Ben Duckett (Nottinghamshire), Liam Dawson (Hampshire), Richard Gleeson (Lancashire), Tom Helm (Middlesex), Will Jacks (Surrey), Dawid Malan (Yorkshire), Adil Rashid (Yorkshire), Phil Salt (Lancashire), Olly Stone (Warwickshire), Reece Topley (Surrey), David Willey (Yorkshire), Chris Woakes (Warwickshire), Luke Wood (Lancashire), Mark Wood (Durham).

Captain Ben Stokes believes England have got their mojo back after mauling South Africa at Old Trafford.

His reign as skipper and Brendon McCullum's time as coach began in dazzling fashion with a 3-0 series sweep against New Zealand in June, followed by victory over India at Edgbaston.

Yet England were rocked by a Lord's thumping by South Africa last week, when the Proteas pacemen showed they had the skills to counter the home side's attacking approach.

That match was over inside three days, but so was the rematch in Manchester as England took their revenge, Stokes and wicketkeeper Ben Foakes hitting first-innings centuries to pave the way for victory by an innings and 85 runs.

James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Ollie Robinson and Stokes himself impressed with the ball as England's attack outshone the tourists' pace squadron, halting South Africa's four-match Test winning streak.

This was an England display that Stokes described as "amazing", and he wants more of the same in the decider at The Oval, starting on September 8.

He told Sky Sports at the post-match presentation: "To come back from disappointment at Lord's and to put in the performance we have this week, it's given us a lot of confidence back and sets the series up nicely for the last game at The Oval."

Stokes was named player of the match after his 103 with the bat and match bowling figures of 4-47, but the all-rounder felt there was a more worthy recipient: Foakes.

"He should be the one up here receiving this award," Stokes said. "The innings that he played and the way he kept this whole game, and through the whole summer, has just been incredible.

"He took seven dismissals as a keeper, but how tidy he is behind the stumps is a massive plus as a team. It's great as a bowler knowing you've got him there, and as a captain as well."

England have now lost only one of their 10 men's Tests against South Africa at Old Trafford (W5, D4), with exception being a three-wicket loss in July 1955.

Stokes said the recalled Robinson showed he was "a quality, quality bowler", and he suggested England's positivity, seemingly back in plentiful supply, should continue to serve them well.

"This is another progression for us," Stokes said. "When you have that clear mindset and that intent to go out and score, it can make things a lot easier."

It was a tough day for South Africa and their captain Dean Elgar, who will be without batter Rassie van der Dussen for the series decider because of a broken left index finger.

Elgar said: "I think there's a lot of learnings out of this. I always try and see a positive even though the result didn't go our way.

"We've got quite a few days before the next Test so I'm sure we're going to go back to the drawing board."

Elgar said luck had been on England's side at times in the contest, and now South Africa will head to London without Van der Dussen at their disposal.

The 33-year-old Van der Dussen made an obdurate 41 to defy England during the afternoon on Saturday, but once Stokes removed him to leave South Africa on 141-4, it was downhill all the way to 179 all out.

"From what I've heard he's obviously got a fracture in his finger," Elgar said. "I'm not a medical doctor, but I do think he's going to be ruled out of this series, which is extremely unfortunate, especially with the way he played today."

That assumption was confirmed by Cricket South Africa, a sore ending to a rough day for the tourists.

Ben Stokes provided the spark yet again as his England side crushed South Africa inside three days at Old Trafford to level the Test series.

After a painful innings defeat at Lord's in the first match, captain Stokes led by dazzling example this time with a mesmerising century and valuable wickets, earning the player of the match award.

He cut off the hint of a South African resurgence on Saturday, before his star seamers did the rest, England bowling out the tourists for 179 and getting the win by an innings and 85 runs to set up a series decider at The Oval next month.

England's 264-run first-innings lead allowed them to go for the jugular in front of a boisterous weekend crowd in Manchester, with home-ground hero James Anderson removing Dean Elgar's off stump early in the day before Sarel Erwee edged Ollie Robinson through to Ben Foakes.

Stuart Broad then thought he had bowled Aiden Markram for a duck, but it came from a no-ball. Markram's stint in the middle was brief regardless, with Broad drawing a nick to Zak Crawley at second slip.

Rassie van der Dussen, batting with a suspected broken finger, and Keegan Petersen frustrated England for a while, with the fourth-wicket pair batting valiantly through the post-lunch session.

Stokes had Van der Dussen reaching outside off stump in the 64th over, in the penultimate over before tea, with replays showing there was perhaps the thinnest of edges through to Ben Foakes.

Nobody appealed so the batsman survived, but not for long. At 141-3, South Africa had a sniff of making a match of this contest, yet they collapsed desperately from there.

England made a breakthrough just moments after tea, and it was skipper Stokes who struck, ending an 87-run fourth-wicket alliance by this time drawing a chunky nick from Van der Dussen (41) to give Foakes an easy enough catch.

He removed Petersen (42) too with a hostile delivery the batsman was clueless to defend, presenting wicketkeeper Foakes with another scalp.

The excellent Robinson removed Keshav Maharaj, Anrich Nortje and Lungi Ngidi as England sliced through the tail, with Kagiso Rabada falling to Anderson.


Robinson recall a roaring success

Sussex quick Robinson had not played for England since the fifth Ashes Test in Hobart at the start of the year, but he proved his fitness on England Lions duty and backed that up with 4-43 in South Africa's second innings.

His inclusion at the expense of Matthew Potts went down as a raging hit, and he surely has a big part to play next time out in London, not to mention in the long term when stalwarts Anderson and Broad finally make way.

Ben Stokes and Ben Foakes produced with the bat as England built a comprehensive 241-run lead over South Africa on day two of the second Test at Old Trafford.

The duo each brought up centuries as England recovered from the early loss of Jonny Bairstow in terrific fashion, reaching 415-9 before Stokes declared with the hosts having built a mammoth first-innings advantage of 264.

While England's bowlers failed to cap a tremendous day in Manchester with a late wicket, South Africa's opening duo were limited to 23 runs, leaving them with a mountain to climb on day three.

After seeing Bairstow bat England out of trouble on Thursday, South Africa began day two looking for quick wickets, and Anrich Nortje (3-82) got them off to a fine start.

Having stopped Bairstow one run short of his half-century, he accounted for Zak Crawley (38) with a superb delivery just two overs later as the hosts began nervously after resuming on 111-3.

But the Proteas failed to make that momentum count as England steadied themselves either side of lunch, with Stokes (103) and Foakes (113 not out) striking up a fearsome sixth-wicket partnership of 173 to drive Brendon McCullum's men into a commanding lead.

Stokes brought up his 12th Test hundred – and first as captain – shortly before being caught by Dean Elgar off Kagiso Rabada's delivery, but Foakes was unaffected as he went on to rack up just his second tonne in the format.

Foakes survived as Stuart Broad (21), Ollie Robinson (17) and Jack Leach (11) were dismissed before Stokes' declaration, with the home side then seeing out the day without incident after taking up the ball.  

Sarel Erwee (12 not out) and Elgar (11 not out) managed just two boundaries between them in a quiet final nine overs, leaving England as favourites to avoid suffering their first back-to-back home Test defeats since August 2008.

England give South Africa the Bens

Stokes' superb knock eased the pressure on England following a less-than-ideal start on Friday and brought him his fourth Test hundred against South Africa, more than he has managed against any other side (three each versus West Indies and Australia, one apiece against India and New Zealand).

The skipper was upstaged, however, as Foakes cruised to his highest score in the format, recording a first home Test century despite failing to hit a single six.

England Test captain Ben Stokes has spoken of his pride over his journey as he confessed he had "gone through a lot of stuff".

Stokes took a break from cricket for five months in 2021 to prioritise his mental health after suffering panic attacks, recently revealing that he feared he may never play cricket again.

Since his return he has taken over the England Test captaincy from Joe Root and won his first four matches before last week's defeat to visiting South Africa.

The 31-year-old is the focus of a new Amazon Prime documentary that goes into detail on Stokes' battle with mental health.

On Wednesday he reflected on his journey, telling reporters: "Looking back on everything I went through and seeing myself in a different way is something I can look back on now and almost go 'I've gone through a lot of stuff' but managed to work my way through it.

"To be here today as England Test captain is something hopefully a lot of people can take a lot of promise from and realise that even when you do feel like you are down and dark you can bounce back and achieve things you want to.

"When the project had finished and I watched it back for the first time, the first impression I got was that maybe it would help people.

"I went into quite a lot with it because the experiences I went through was something that a lot of people do go through but sometimes don't feel like they can talk about. 

"But me being me, and the platform I've got to go into what I went through from a non-selfish point of view, was something I wanted to do.

"And I'm actually very proud of the stuff I've gone into and I've already received a lot of messages from people saying thanks for doing what you did."

Ben Stokes has praised Matthew Potts for his maturity after he was dropped for England's second Test against South Africa at Old Trafford.

Potts struggled for rhythm during a heavy opening defeat at Lord's, the first Test loss of the Brendon McCullum era and since Stokes took the captaincy permanently from Joe Root.

That has seen the bowler pay the price, with Ollie Robinson called up in his place, but Stokes nevertheless believes Potts remains a key member of the wider England cohort.

"It's very tough for Matty to miss out, but what he's done in the five games that he's played is he's taken himself from a county cricketer with a lot of promise and really announced himself on the big stage," Stokes told reporters.

"We've got to give him a lot of credit, to handle the decision so professionally at such a young age is a real indication of where we're at at the moment as a team.

"The selection was based around what we thought was the best bowling attack to suit this particular ground and he completely understood that."

Robinson has not played for England since the end of the Ashes tour in January, with a combination of fitness issues keeping him out of the fold.

But an impressive showing for the England Lions earlier this month has seen him recalled, with Stokes hopeful the paceman will complicate matters for South Africa's batters.

"When you look at what Ollie possesses as a bowler, one of his real key assets is how much extra bounce he gets compared to other bowlers in our squad," Stokes said.

"We think here at Old Trafford, with it being a slightly quicker wicket than other grounds we play at, it obviously offers a lot more bounce. We obviously pick the team we think is going to enable us to win the Test."

Having brushed aside New Zealand as part of the 'Bazball' approach, defeat against South Africa brought England back down with a bumpy landing.

"What we have learned from ourselves is that you can't always go out there and perform how you want to perform," Stokes explained.

"The address after the game was, 'look, lads, you have obviously not performed anywhere near the capabilities we want to and we know we can, but it's not something that we are going to take backward steps from'.

"South Africa were better than us in that Test, that's fine, that's sport. Sport is set up for someone to be a winner and someone to be a loser. We are focussing on this game and the next and want to win the series 2-1."

Fortress Old Trafford needed for England

The hosts will be looking to avoid back-to-back defeats in men's Tests at home for the first time since August 2008, following their innings and 12-run defeat to the Proteas.

England will take heart from their strong Old Trafford record against the tourists, having lost only one of their nine men's Tests against them at Old Trafford, way back in July 1955.

Elgar eyes milestone

South Africa captain Dean Elgar needs just 89 runs to become the eighth player to hit the 5,000 mark in men's Test cricket for South Africa.

He might just get them too, with his Test batting strike rate in England (51.8) his second-best in any country (60.7 in Pakistan).

Joe Root praised Ben Stokes for showing "great courage" by opening up on the mental health battle which led him to take a break from cricket last year.

Stokes stepped away from the sport for five months in July 2021 after suffering panic attacks, having previously taken compassionate leave to deal with the death of his father and struggled after rushing his recovery from a broken finger.

Ahead of the airing of a new documentary detailing his experiences in that difficult period, Stokes revealed on Tuesday that he feared he would never return to cricket during his break.

Stokes' predecessor as England Test captain has now moved to declare his support for the 31-year-old, saying his willingness to speak out on the subject represents a perfect demonstration of leadership.

"I think it's exactly what you've come to see from Ben as a leader, how honest he is," Root said.

"I think it shows great courage, great bravery, to go and speak openly about that sort of stuff and some of the struggles that he's personally been through.

"We were all there with him, going through it. It's not easy to see a close friend and team-mate like that.

"But look at him now, it's great to have him leading this team and making Test cricket so enjoyable to play and to watch.

"I think, like with any of your mates, you want to get around and do what you can to help. That goes within the dressing room environment away from the game as well."

Ben Stokes has revealed he feared he may never play cricket again while taking a break from the sport to prioritise his mental health last year.

Stokes, who was appointed as England's Test captain in April, spent five months away from the sport in 2021 after suffering panic attacks.

The 31-year-old had taken a period of compassionate leave to spend time with his father ahead of his passing in December 2020, having previously struggled after rushing his recovery from a broken figure.

Ahead of the airing of an Amazon Prime documentary detailing Stokes' experiences throughout that time, he recalled how his decision to step away from cricket was the culmination of a long-term battle.

"It wasn't a case where it was a two-week thing or a couple of months thing, the whole thing was a build-up over a long, long period of time, maybe two, three, four years," Stokes told the BBC.

"It was like I had a glass bottle I kept on throwing my emotions and feelings into. While I was doing that, the bottle was filling up to where, eventually, it got too full and just exploded. I reacted in the way I did and felt like, 'I need to get away from here'."

Asked whether he considered calling time on his playing career, Stokes said: "At the time, yeah, that's where I was at. It was a very, very tough time.

"One of the more powerful things that I notice from the film, was when Stuart Broad was on camera and he said the same thing, he actually said he could see me not playing again.

"I had never spoken to Stuart about that through my time away. I spoke to him a lot through that period but just general chit-chat, nothing too serious.

"I had never said the words to him, 'I'm not sure if I'm going to play again', but the fact that he got that feeling was an eye-opener to me that at that time, things were quite bad."

After assuming the captaincy in April, Stokes oversaw four consecutive victories, three against New Zealand and one against India, before England were thrashed within three days by South Africa at Lord's last week.

While Stokes believes his early success as skipper vindicates the decision to take a break, he was left irritated when his struggles became a talking point after his appointment.

"When Joe [Root] stepped down and the opportunity was there for me to take it, I was actually quite annoyed about some of the press around it, because they linked the England captaincy and my mental health break with each other," he added.

"It felt like people were saying I couldn't do the job because I decided to take a break for mental health last year.

"What's that got to do with being England captain? If anything, it shows that you can do anything, even if you have decided to take a break, it's fine. 

"I did an interview where I'd give off this bravado of being a big tough northern lad with tattoos. I am tough, but that doesn't mean that I can't struggle mentally.

"These things, you can't pick and choose when they're going to hit you. It's not like a switch in your brain, going, 'today I'm going to feel good, tomorrow I'm going to feel bad'."

Stokes is also keen to ensure his willingness to talk about his mental health acts as an inspiration for younger generations, adding: "We all know that as England players, we've got more responsibility than just going out and performing on the field.

"Young kids these days will look at us and want to play like us, they'll want to do what we do because that's who they look up to.

"If I was to shy away and not speak about anything that I've gone through, I don't think I would be doing the responsibility that's been set on me. Shying away is something I would never do."

Brendon McCullum says England have not become a bad team overnight after they were thrashed by South Africa in the first Test at Lord's.

England had started a new era under head coach McCullum and captain Ben Stokes by whitewashing New Zealand 3-0 and beating India in a rearranged match at Edgbaston to draw the series.

They were brought crashing back down to earth six weeks after that win over India, as the tourists hammered them by an innings and 12 runs to take a 1-0 lead in the three-match series.

England were thrashed inside three days, failing to live with a potent Proteas pace attack in a one-side match that saw them fold to 165 all out in the first innings and only 149 in the second.

McCullum says they must take the chastening defeat on the chin and hit back at Old Trafford next week.

"South Africa deserved the victory. We have a little bit of work to do, but you don't go from being a good team to a bad one overnight." the former New Zealand skipper told Sky Sports.

McCullum felt if anything England were too "timid' rather than overly aggressive.

He said: "It was the type of wicket that the boys reflected that you get in, then you got a cracking delivery from nowhere. I thought our approach was alright

"I think over the last four wins we've had there have been times where we have been behind then able to absorb it and turn it back on the opposition. We couldn't do that today.

"As we said at the outset, you have to buckle up for the ride. We'll come back stronger."

McCullum added: "The wicket was challenging at times and some of the balls were too good for us. If anything I thought some of the dismissals were a bit timid today. We won't overreact after this."

Alex Lees and Stuart Broad top scored with 35 apiece. The hostile pace quartet of Anrich Nortje (3-47), Kagiso Rabada (2-27), Marco Jansen (2-13) and Lungi Ngidi (1-15) tore through England after spinner Keshav Maharaj took 2-35 on Friday.

Ben Stokes promised England would not back down from their attacking approach against South Africa after rival captain Dean Elgar questioned the team's 'Bazball' tactics.

New England skipper Stokes has enjoyed four consecutive victories in the long format since taking over leadership duties from Joe Root, with three coming against New Zealand and one against India.

Now three Tests against South Africa await, with the first beginning at Lord's on Wednesday before further assignments at Old Trafford and The Oval.

Proteas skipper Elgar told Wisden Cricket Monthly he did not see "longevity in brave cricket", suggesting England could easily have been left "with egg on their faces" against New Zealand.

"Look, the opposition seem to be doing a lot of the talking about it at the moment," Stokes said on Tuesday.

"We don't really speak about it that much, we just concentrate on what we do. We've got a style of play, they've got a style of play, and at the end of the day it's bat against ball and whoever plays best over a Test match is more than likely to win."

England's approach has been nicknamed 'Bazball' because the lusty hitting of Jonny Bairstow has been so integral to the success. For each win in the current run, England have pulled off impressive fourth-innings chases, going almost gung-ho at times. Stokes and new head coach Brendon McCullum have encouraged the positivity.

Stokes hopes the England team "hasn't lost its venom", given it has been six weeks since the last Test, with record wicket-taker James Anderson turning 40 in the meantime.

Asked for how long Anderson might play on, Stokes said: "He's still 20 in my eyes, so 60 maybe, who knows."

With a hint of mischief in his eyes, Stokes responded to a question of whether he might also play on in Tests until the age of 40 by saying: "I'd absolutely love to."

Anderson's long-time pace partner Stuart Broad is one shy of becoming the second bowler to take 100 Test wickets at Lord's, with Anderson's 116 leading the way.

Elgar was not inclined to return to the topic of 'Bazball', saying: "Mudslinging is a thing of the past for me, and we're not going to go back and forth any more about that."


England chase four in a row against South Africa

England have won each of their last three multi-game men's Test series against South Africa, so they will hope Stokes' strong start as leader continues over the coming weeks. Root made 190 and Moeen Ali took 10 wickets in the match when England crushed South Africa by 211 runs at Lord's in July 2017, ending a six-match winless run (D2, L4) in games against the Proteas at the London ground.

Elgar looks to pace to pummel England

South Africa are unbeaten in four series (W3, D1) since a 2-0 defeat to Pakistan in February last year, so they are not lacking in confidence. Elgar is prepared for moments of England dominance and says South Africa can ride that out.

He said: "I know somewhere they're going to have periods in the game where they're going to be on top of us, no doubt, and we're going to have to find a way to adapt to that situation. I'd like to think from a bowling point of view, our bowlers are big, tall, fast and strong. We want it hard, we want it really tough, and hopefully the results go our way."

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