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Plucky Proteas are psyched up for English ‘Bazball’ battle

Plucky Proteas are psyched up for English ‘Bazball’ battle
‘I’m hungry for wickets. That’s all I have on my mind,’ says South African fast bowler Lungi Ngidi ahead of the Proteas’ nine-game England tour. (Photo: Pankaj Nangia / Gallo Images)

After a tricky few years, the SA team are feeling bullish as they prepare to take on England.

Mark Boucher’s plucky Proteas have recorded some monumental results in recent times. Earlier this season, they beat a star-studded India side in the Test and one-day international series staged in South Africa. They went on to draw a two-Test series in New Zealand, as well as a Twenty20 international series in India.

The Cricket South Africa (CSA) administration has made headlines for all the wrong reasons over the past few years. Although the aforementioned results may suggest otherwise, the issues at board level have had a negative impact on the team.

Fortunately, thanks to a strong culture implemented by Boucher and the senior players, the group has weathered the emotional storm.

In a sense, the ordeal has prepared the Proteas for a particularly challenging nine-game tour to England. Although they boast fewer superstars than the great South Africa side that won the Test series in 2012 – and, on the back of their limited-overs exploits in England, briefly occupied the No 1 ranking across all three formats – Boucher’s charges possess a similarly combative attitude.

“It’s a full tour with so much to be gained across all formats,” Lungi Ngidi told Daily Maverick. The fast bowler has been selected for all three squads and is expected to feature in the first ODI at Chester-le-Street on 19 July.

“We need to pick up qualifying points in the ODI series for the 2023 World Cup, which is just around the corner. We’re also building towards the T20 World Cup [which will be staged in Australia in October and November].

“We’re right up there in the Test Championship, so a win in the Test series against England will boost our chances of winning the whole competition,” Ngidi said. “That would be a great result for South Africa, and is something we don’t take lightly.”

England powered their way to series victories in all three formats when South Africa last toured in 2017. There are a few reasons, however, why the class of 2022 is in a better head space.

 Losing the mental baggage

Ngidi points out that the team has grown in all departments over the past 12 months. Winning big series – home and away – has done wonders for their confidence.

“The big difference is consistency in results. It’s easy to say that sport is unpredictable and that you will win some and lose some, but winning consistently does a lot for a team’s growth and confidence.

“We’ve learned some important lessons, and if anything we felt that we could have performed better in some situations. We’re disappointed, for example, that we drew rather than won the series in New Zealand.

“The way we fought back to win the second Test was great, but in a sense that showed us what might have been had we been more consistent in the first game.”

The situation at CSA has improved in recent months, and that has eased the pressure on the team.

“That’s the best part about going on this tour to England. We won’t have any baggage or anything hanging over us. We can get on with the cricket. That’s all you can ask for as a professional,” Ngidi said.

“Sure, the issues needed to be resolved, and everything that’s happened has brought us closer as a team. But it’s great to be focusing on the battle that really matters.”

Exploiting the English approach

England are enjoying a resurgence of their own at present. They have a new coach in Brendon McCullum, as well as a new captain in Ben Stokes.

“Bazball” – the bold attacking approach advocated by McCullum – has yielded some big results against India and New Zealand.

And yet Ngidi believes that the high-risk, high-reward strategy may work against England at some stage in the coming months.

“It’s been hard to ignore how they’re playing. Their white-ball approach is unsurprising, and they’ve started to bring that same approach across to the Tests.

“It’s an approach that can bring you great success. At the same time, it can create opportunities for opposition teams to bowl you out. That’s what’s going to make this tour so exciting because South Africa has a world-class bowling unit. If we stick to our strengths and execute our plan, we’re confident about getting the results.”

 Leaving a legacy

Ngidi is quick to dismiss talk about emulating the great Proteas team of 2012. This side wants to be recognised for its own brand of cricket and achievements.

“It’s about putting our own stamp on history. That’s what this team is about, and what the leaders of the team have spoken about at length over the past year or so.

“We want to leave our mark, and to play a certain way. It’s an attitude that’s earned us some success to date.”

The Proteas have played two warm-up games against the England Lions. Despite enjoying the limited opportunity to adjust to local conditions, they hope to hit the ground running in the ODI-series opener on Tuesday 19 July.

“It’s a really important series, and we’ve been preparing ourselves both physically and mentally for some time,” said Ngidi.

“Well before our arrival, we were coming to grips with the Dukes ball and starting to anticipate what it will be like in English conditions. There will be a bit more swing on offer and, as bowlers and batters, you have to adjust,” he said.

The nine-game sojourn will climax with a three-Test series. Multiformat stars such as Ngidi will be put to the test with regard to their conditioning and skill sets.

“I’m in the best condition I’ve been in for a long time,” he said. “I went to the IPL for two months and focused on getting my body into peak condition. When I played for South Africa against India in the recent T20 series, I started to see results.

“I’m hoping to carry that through to the England matches. I’m hungry for wickets. That’s all I have on my mind.” DM

This story first appeared in our weekly DM168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.

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