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England's Ben Stokes must learn to make right decisions, says Trevor Bayliss

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After every Test match, England's head coach, Trevor Bayliss, gives a press conference which is very much like a headmaster's report - with a difference.

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Bayliss does not criticise one of his players with phrases such as "must try harder", "unable to concentrate on the task in hand", or "hopeless at games". He either implies the criticism, or speaks in such a way that the parents/journalists can infer it.

Ben Stokes was therefore not criticised directly in any way after the game of his life to date, when he made the highest Test score by any No.6 (258), and scored the most runs (130) in a morning session - then slog-swept straight down deep square leg's throat to jeopardise England's 1-0 lead. But Bayliss knows what Stokes has to learn.

"We didn't say anything to him in either innings - that's just the way he went out and played. He just let it happen. You don't want to stifle that sort of ability and he's going to be one of those players who can win a team a match and, at different times, he's going to disappoint as well as all of those types of players in history have shown." Very wise words from the headmaster.

Now the caveat. "I think, over a period of time, he'll become more consistent and maybe take a lot more right options.


"As we saw in the second innings, it was probably the right shot, but he maybe didn't have to go after it as hard, as there wasn't anyone fielding around the corner. So, making the right decisions is an area that he'll learn going forward.

"One of the things about batting on the last day - the thing that's important - is not just batting to survive but scoring runs as well.

"We could have blocked it out and been 50 runs and six or seven or eight wickets down. We'd have been really staring down the barrel. But we were proactive and looked for the runs when they were on offer."

Herein lies a criticism of Nick Compton - almost a warning shot across his bows. Compton scored 15 runs off 60 balls, which added to, rather than subtracted from, the growing crisis. It was even lower than his normal strike-rate: 25 runs per 100 balls compared to 35 overall.

In fact, it was much the same rate Compton was going at the last time he was dropped in June 2013.

Bayliss was not a Test player himself, but a high-class batsman for New South Wales, perennially the strongest state, like Yorkshire in England, or Mumbai in India. He was an attacking batsman, whose creed was to put pressure on the bowlers. And, although it has not by any means always been the English way, it is the right creed - especially on bland contemporary pitches.

But he does clarify this creed. "Being aggressive is being mentally aggressive. If you're mentally aggressive, your feet are moving well and you can be mentally aggressive in your defence and your attack.

"I think if you are mentally aggressive, the runs do flow a bit easier because you're looking to score, but you're also looking to defend the good balls as well. It's not about just hitting fours and sixes."

This headmaster does not use the cane. But he can be expected to tell England's pace bowlers to pitch a fuller length, especially with the new ball, than they did in the second Test; and after England's fallible fielding let South Africa off the hook on which Stokes had strung them up, the players can expect a regime of cold showers after their three-day break in Cape Town, and before the third Test in Johannesburg on Thursday.

"We'll certainly be working on it - but no more, no less than we've done in the past. We do spend a lot of time on the catching especially. That's why it's disappointing when you put in the hard work and every now and again it doesn't work. If it [the dropping] continues, then that would be more of a concern, but we've caught pretty well in the last six months. Hopefully, it's something that's a one-off."

But do not think he is a stern headmaster - firm, even strict underneath the avuncular exterior, but not stern. A Bayliss fielding practice is intense all right, but fun, too.

He often operates at a far quicker pace than England coaches in the past: he will get three players fielding at the equivalent of short square leg, short midwicket and short mid-on, then have someone like the physio lobbing balls for him to hit every few seconds. As soon as one ball is caught, the next one is pinging your way - fast.

Jonny Bairstow will not be allowed to get carried away after his unbeaten 150, his maiden England century, and 30 - because his primary job is wicket-keeping, and not yet up to the standard that Bayliss demands.

"Certainly, his wicketkeeping is a work in progress, as I think our other wicketkeepers are as well. Both Jonny and Jos [Buttler] work terribly hard on their keeping, and plenty of other wicketkeepers around the world have started off their international careers not in the greatest fashion but ended up pretty decent keepers."

As with Adil Rashid, Bayliss is happy for Buttler to play in the Indian Premier League. "If the opportunity arises and he's not in the Test team and that IPL window is a possibility, I'd be all for it," Bayliss said. Very tough. Very fair.

The Telegraph, London

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