Anyone for ‘Bazball’?

“Our hunger was up there and our hunger’s still here. It’s not going to go anywhere.” – Dean Elgar

Telford Vice / Manchester

FUNNY how nobody talks about ‘Bazball’ anymore. Just last week it was all the rage. Now it’s so last week. Maybe because it’s spicing the dark muttering about England’s dismal performance at Lord’s, where South Africa triumphed by an innings and a dozen runs inside the equivalent of two days of playing time.

Or maybe because the home side aren’t ready to admit they got things badly wrong by batting in one gear against one of the most varied attacks in the game. But perhaps England shouldn’t abandon, just yet, an approach that, earlier in their home summer, fuelled four consecutive victories over India and New Zealand. 

Maybe England’s minds are being boggled by the cheesy music they are subjected to, at Brendon McCullum’s behest, during practice sessions. Who could concentrate on middling the ball with Foreigner’s funereal “I Want To Know What Love Is” wailing through the ear-holes in their helmet? The equally, or more, questionable sounds emitted by John Denver, Toto, Atomic Kitten, John Farnham and Robbie Williams are also on this puerile playlist. It all sounds like music for a lift going down.

Certainly the South Africans wouldn’t complain if their opponents stuck to their misfiring guns at Old Trafford, where the second Test starts on Thursday. Who couldn’t use another two days off? “Each person went in their own direction,” Dean Elgar said when asked during a press conference on Wednesday what his players had done with their bonus down time. “You just had to make sure you were back at the hotel for our 11 o’clock departure on Monday. Otherwise it would have been an expensive Uber to get to Manchester.”

Not that that line of levity should make the English think South Africa’s captain has lost the competitive edge that sets him apart from players of similar ability and experience. They will know his fast bowlers will fly into the fray again, and that his batters will scrap as if their careers depend on it. Which maybe they do considering no South Africa player has scored a century since Kyle Verreynne made an unbeaten 136 against New Zealand in Christchurch in February — or 56 individual innings ago, 50 of them completed. The kicker is that South Africa have won all three Tests they have played in that time.

So it’s surprising that England’s only answer to what went wrong for them at Lord’s has been to replace Matthew Potts with Ollie Robinson, who hasn’t played in England’s last eight Tests because of injuries and concerns over his conditioning. There’s no point telling England this gently — it’s the batting, stupid. Harry Brook, the leading English batter in the county championship this season with three centuries and six half-centuries — four of them scores of more than 70 — in a dozen innings, is in the squad. Yet not in the XI.

Jonny Bairstow, who made nought and 18 at Lord’s but has built up a healthy credit balance by scoring six centuries in 18 Test innings this year, should surely have been moved down the order to take the wicketkeeping gloves and pads from Ben Foakes, who scored six and nought in the first Test. That would have made room for Brook.

South Africa train to the sound of ball on bat, the odd expletive, and not a strangled syllable of Foreigner. They don’t name their team before the toss, and they face a straightforward choice to try and make an already good team better. Having retained the 12 they named for the first Test, they will decide on Thursday morning whether they will deploy Simon Harmer as a second spinner. Harmer had no chance of playing in the steamy, seaming conditions that prevailed at Lord’s. Old Trafford hasn’t been kind to slow bowlers, so the odds are on him sitting out again. He would no doubt be disappointed, but it’s OK. As part of this squad, he knows what love is.

When: Thursday, August 25, 2022; 11am Local Time

Where: Old Trafford, Manchester

What to expect: More sunshine and less rain than we’ve seen in Manchester for the past couple of days, but a fair amount of cloud throughout the match. And a fast bowler’s pitch: since the start of 2018 spinners have a worse strike rate in Tests in England only at Lord’s and Trent Bridge.

Team news:

England: Ollie Robinson’s ability to generate bounce has earned him the crack of the nod ahead of Matthew Potts. 

Confirmed XI: Alex Lees, Zak Crawley, Ollie Pope, Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes (capt), Ben Foakes, Ollie Robinson, Stuart Broad, Jack Leach, James Anderson 

South Africa: The visitors are mulling picking a second spinner, in which case Simon Harmer would play at the probable expense of Lungi Ngidi. But the smarter money would be on an unchanged XI.  

Possible XI: Dean Elgar (capt), Sarel Erwee, Keegan Petersen, Aiden Markram, Rassie van der Dussen, Kyle Verreynne, Marco Jansen, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortjé, Lungi Ngidi

What they said:

“He’s in the team and he’s playing this week. So everything that’s gone on in the past is something that he’s obviously grown from, and he’s learned a lot from about himself. Not just as a person but as a player.”.” – Ben Stokes on the often injured Ollie Robinson.

“Our hunger was up there and our hunger’s still here. It’s not going to go anywhere. We really want to play a brand of cricket that everyone loves back home, and hopefully the rest of the world enjoys.” — Dean Elgar promises South Africa’s A game.

First published by Cricbuzz.

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Anyone for ‘Bazball’?