Enough of the ‘Bazball’ talk already… Proteas are itching to have a go at England with ‘bat and ball’
The talking is nearly over as two resurgent teams, England and South Africa, are set to start their three-Test series at Lord’s on Wednesday, 17 August.
The popular phrase in English cricket since Brendon McCullum took over as coach has been “Bazball”. It’s a reference to the attacking, dynamic cricket England have played in the four Tests under McCullum’s guidance.
The moniker is a reference to McCullum’s middle name, Barry. Much like the Springboks’ “bomb squad”, “Bazball” has taken on a life of its own after four dramatic run chases saw England win four times.
They chased down three scores in excess of 300 in the fourth innings and one of more than 250. It’s an impressive body of work that certainly sends a message of invincibility. It seems no total is beyond them.
Proteas coach Mark Boucher, publicly at least, seemed unfazed by the hype around the way England play. Sexy names aside, Boucher reminded people of the obvious: “There’s a lot of hype and a lot of things that get said. The bottom line is that this game is between bat and ball and you’ve got to make smart decisions,” Boucher said.
Asked if he agreed with England’s assessment that they believe they can chase down any score, Boucher punched a verbal volley back down the wicket.
“If they’re saying that, they probably believe it,” Boucher said. “It’s our job to try and stop them from doing that. It’s not a conversation about me talking about England. It’s a conversation about me talking about what we can get out of our players and prepare them as best we can to be on top of the game rather than behind.”
But did he think South Africa could stop England’s rampant batters when they ramp up the pressure?
“I don’t know. I’ll tell you on the day. You’ve got to be adaptable in Test cricket. We don’t know what conditions are going to be like overhead and underfoot. It’s about finding a way to try to stop their momentum and changing it.”
Elgar comes out swinging
If the cricket is half as good as the build-up, it’s going to be spectacular, as Proteas captain Dean Elgar also bristled at the constant reference to Bazball.
The English media keep asking him about it. He keeps telling them he doesn’t want to talk about it. England captain Ben Stokes jousted with Elgar via his media conference, saying: “Dean and the South African team keep saying they’re not interested but then also keep talking about it. So, yeah…”
Well, it’s hard not to talk about it when a journalist is asking a direct, and sometimes indirect question about it. Elgar, though, is made of stern stuff and these little sparring sessions before the big game are part of the fun.
Elgar’s response to yet another Bazball question from an English hack was succinct. “With all due respect, I’m not going to entertain that any more,” Elgar said at a media conference on Tuesday.
“We’ve chatted about it long and hard. I just want to crack on with the cricket. The game deserves that respect. Mud-slinging is a thing of the past for me. We’re not going to go back and forth about that any more.”
Two questions later, he was asked about the B-word again…
But moving on to the actual cricket, Elgar has a few more issues to consider. The hot, dry weather has given way to rain and cooler temperatures.
That means a rethink about the make-up of the side. A dusty, five-day turner (at Lord’s!) might never have been likely, but the change in weather could mean South Africa shelves whatever plans they had for two spinners.
Aiden Markram, who is likely to be included as a top-order batter, is a more than useful occasional spinner.
More concerning for Elgar is whether fast bowler Kagiso Rabada will pass his final fitness test, which is likely to take place on the morning of the Test. But the skipper was optimistic.
“I think he’s very close to being fully fit for this Test. He’s had a really good few days, so it’s looking pretty good for us,” Elgar said.
It’s vital that Rabada is fit because in Test terms this is a callow Proteas unit. Only Elgar and Rabada played in the 2017 series — the last time South Africa toured England.
“Our bowlers are big, tall, fast and strong and we’ve ticked the boxes with regard to the spin bowling department,” Elgar warned. “We come in with a lot more resources.”
Temba Bavuma is out through injury, and the rest of the batting top order is light on experience.
The major question is who will replace Bavuma in the top five, with the latter having been one of South Africa’s most consistent performers over the past 12 months.
Sarel Erwee will probably open with Elgar, and Keegan Petersen at number three, with the experienced duo of Aiden Markram and Rassie van der Dussen tipped to take the two remaining top five places ahead of Ryan Rickelton and Khaya Zondo.
Wicketkeeper-batsman Kyle Verreynne will slot in at six. “Purely because we’ve lost that experience factor [of Bavuma] we are more inclined on going with the experience we have within our batters,” Elgar said.
“It is up to the coach and the selectors, but from my side, I would lean more to having the experience,” Elgar said.
“One of the biggest strengths as a Test side over the last period has been our awareness to adapt. When you are under the pump in Test cricket, you need to have skill. We’ve fast-tracked that at quite a good rate.”
South Africa have not beaten England in a Test series since 2012. On paper, they shouldn’t have a chance this time around either. But tell that to a side that hasn’t lost a series under Elgar.
The Proteas are underdogs. But they are underdogs with bite. DM