Proteas Test captain Dean Elgar unfazed by England’s ‘Bazball’
The Proteas take on England in a three-match Test series from 17 August at ‘The Home of Cricket’, Lord’s.
England have been in remarkable form in the longest format since Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes took the reins as coach and captain, respectively. The team has played four Tests under their tutelage and have won all of them.
The new, aggressive style of Test cricket introduced by the pair has produced the term “Bazball” – to describe England’s approach to batting – adapted from McCullum’s nickname, “Baz”.
England’s four Test victories since June came against formidable opposition in world Test champions New Zealand (three) and No 2-ranked India (one).
Despite England’s recent Test success at home, South Africa’s Test skipper, Dean Elgar, is not worried about Bazball.
“Good for them. They’ve obviously taken a few risks along the way and it’s paid off. I think conditions had a massive role to play with regards to that kind of style of cricket. I’m not too concerned about the way they’ve gone about their things of late,” he said.
“It’s been an interesting style and caused a few conversations around the world around the way they’ve been playing [but] I’m not too concerned about that,” he reiterated.
The Proteas started their Test summer with a three-match series against visiting India. They started the series awfully, with a hollow performance in the first Test and losing by 113 runs.
South Africa won the next two Tests by seven wickets and took the series 2-1 after showing grit and determination to fight back.
Read more in Daily Maverick: “Proteas and England share ODI spoils in the rain, despite De Kock blitz”
But a month later they toured New Zealand for a two-match series and succumbed to a humbling innings and 276-run defeat in the first Test, although they fought back once again to win the next Test by 198 runs and draw the series.
Next up, a rudderless Bangladesh side toured South Africa in March and April when the Proteas handed the subcontinental side humbling 220-run and 332-run defeats to take the series 2-0 and nip the trend of starting slowly in the bud.
Slow starts ‘not an option’
Captain Elgar is fully aware of his side’s tendency to start slowly in series, but with two warm-up matches against the England Lions, as well as “tough conversations”, he is assured the trend won’t continue.
“It’s not our intention to start slowly but it’s my job and responsibility to make the players aware of our shortfalls that we’ve had in the past. I’ve made them aware that starting slow against tough opposition away from home is clearly not the game plan going forward,” he said.
“I know how important it is to start well against a tough side in their home conditions. The conversations are ongoing and as long as I’m here those conversations won’t stop. I need to make those players aware of that, the coaches have made the players aware of that again.
“Starting slow is not an option because playing catch-up cricket is not easy in Test cricket. We might get away with that maybe at home where we know the conditions a lot better, but when you’re touring you can’t start slowly. I’m very much mindful and aware of that,” Elgar said.
Middle-order rock Temba Bavuma is not in England as he continues to recover from an elbow injury. He has averaged 46.4 in the past two seasons in Tests, giving the Proteas stability in the middle order.
Read more in Daily Maverick: “Bavuma blow for Proteas as skipper ruled out of England tour”
“Temba’s injury has been a massive setback in all formats for us. In Test cricket he’s been brilliant for us in that No 4, No 5 spot. To replace him – what he’s achieved in the last year is something I don’t think we should look too much into just purely because of the personnel that we have,” said Elgar.
Bavuma’s absence provides an opportunity for others to step up, with three players competing for one position, according to Elgar.
“We have three guys that are obviously up for that option in Aiden Markram, Rassie van der Dussen and Khaya Zondo.
“It’s an interesting one because the conversations we’re having are very much around that as well; whether we go for the experienced factor of having guys that’s been around the Proteas environment, playing Test cricket, or if we’re going to go with a guy that’s extremely inexperienced at Test cricket and giving him the go-ahead into that Test.”
On the bowling front, Anrich Nortje, who didn’t play against India, New Zealand and Bangladesh owing to injury, is due to make his first appearance in Test whites this year.
His role will be particularly important with stalwart Kagiso Rabada recovering from an injury and being uncertain for the first Test.
“Great to have Ana [Anrich Nortje] back. He’s been missing a little bit with injury over the last year, but the way he’s bowling in the nets and the way he bowled in the white-ball game now is big for us. He brings a whole different aspect of pace to the table. In the UK, if you have those kinds of assets you need to use them in the best way you see fit,” said the skipper.
The spin option
The option of using two spinners – Simon Harmer and Keshav Maharaj – as the Proteas did against Bangladesh in both Tests earlier this year, is something Elgar is considering too, despite England not being the most conducive to spin bowling.
“The biggest thing with playing Simon and Kesh together against Bangladesh was giving us more resources and options coming to the UK and further tours,” he said.
Those are resources we need to keep and use if the conditions allow it. It’s by no means off the table that they might start [together] again. It was just about broadening our squad depth and giving us the best option going into a series. We’ve negotiated the spin and the seam options and we’re pretty confident and we’re in a very good space.” DM