Bouch, Brendon and Bazball

“If you mention ‘Bazball’ you’ve got to have a tequila.” – Mark Boucher, still the fines master.

Telford Vice / London

DEAN Elgar wears orange socks. Once you saw them wrapped around his sturdy calves below his shorts at Lord’s on Monday, as he crunched across the concrete that separates the field from the nets, there was no unseeing them.

Behind him was a pitch of another eye-catching shade: pistachio. Doubtless it will be closer to khaki when the Test series starts on Wednesday. Ahead of Elgar and the rest of the South Africans on Monday lay a few more hours of putting into practice their plans for rendering windless the sails of an England team who have made a habit of playing, under Brendon McCullum, their coach since May, as if they are in a hurricane of their own making.

Before the start of a press conference in a room near the nets, Mark Boucher revealed one of the ground rules for how that might be accomplished: “If you mention ‘Bazball’ you’ve got to have a tequila.”

Under McCullum — second name Barry, hence his nickname of ‘Baz’ — England have reeled off four consecutive victories over the New Zealander’s former team and India. McCullum’s England side have batted last all four times — twice by their own decision — and chased down targets ranging from 279 to 378. Only twice in those eight innings have they scored at fewer than four runs an over, never less than three and thrice more than five.

Did Boucher take seriously the theory that the English were capable of hauling in any amount of runs? “If they’re saying that they probably believe it,” he 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.”

Did he think South Africa could prevent England’s batters from running away with the game? “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 stop their momentum, and change it.”

Did he think England would field first if Ben Stokes won the toss? “I don’t know. I’m not privy to their conversations. Maybe I’ll have a beer with ‘Baz’ later and ask him what he would like to do.” Enough already with the “what would England do” questions, Boucher’s smile said silently.

“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.”

The home side’s batters have taken to their new coach’s philosophy as well as he played in scoring an undefeated 158 for Kolkata Knight Riders in the inaugural IPL match at the Chinnaswamy in April 2008. Boucher had a good view of all that as Royal Challengers Bangalore’s wicketkeeper in the same match. It was the night, you might say, ‘Bazball’ was born.

Fourteen years later strokes that previously were attempted only in the lucrative but low pressure environment of a contextless T20 tournament featuring invented teams playing together for just a few short weeks have been perfected and deployed even in tradition-trapped Test cricket. The IPL is key to cricket becoming a better game.

But there remained room for history. Particularly at a place like Lord’s, where you could cut the nostalgia with a whalebone collar stiffener. “This is where legends are made — when you walk into the changeroom, you see all the names on the boards, and there are so many stories around those performances,” Boucher said. “It’s about us as coaching staff trying to give guys tools to deal with the pressures and emotions they are going to feel. You can’t hide from that. They’re going to be there. It’s a great feeling, especially if you can overcome them and do well.

“You only had to be around when the guys walked into the museum. All the players were staring in awe at what was around them. There’s a lot of passion. The emotions are running high in a good way. Even the guys who have been here before are probably still looking at WG Grace’s gloves and going, ‘Dunno if I could wear those today.’ We’ve been successful here. There are memories to be created at this venue, and they would like to be part of creating them.”

South Africa have lost only one of the seven Tests they have played at Lord’s since re-admission. That was on their last visit here, the first match of the 2017 series. Five years before that, Lord’s was the stage for the climax of the triumph that took them to the top of Test rankings.

Boucher was set to be part of that success — until his career was ended by an eye injury in Taunton on the tour’s first playing day.

“I was pretty satisfied with what I got out of that tour,” he said. “Even though I wasn’t on it I was well looked after by teammates and the management. Coaching is a completely different road. I’m on a journey with these guys that, over the last two or three years, has been challenging, but I’ve really enjoyed working with the players. This is just a part of that journey. Coaches and management come and go. These guys will outlive coaches and more coaches to come. It’s about their journey and I’m just privileged to be a part of that.”

Hours later, Elgar walked back from the nets and across the middle of the ground, as if to confirm that the pitch was indeed pistachio. A sludge of cloud had covered the scene, making those orange socks glow even more garishly out of the gloom. The colour looked good on him, as it does in Sunrisers Hyderabad’s kit — and as it will do when MCC members fill the Pavilion on Wednesday. Nothing rhymes with orange, but it chimes with cricket of all hues. Including ‘Bazball’.

First published by Cricbuzz.

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Bouch, Brendon and Bazball