The buck stops with the B-word

“We will be required to slow down their batting. Our bowlers are big, tall, fast, strong buggers.” – Dean Elgar’s ‘Bazball’ antidote.

Telford Vice / London

SOME of South Africa’s favourite words start with B. ‘Bazball’ is not among them. England’s frenetic batting under Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum is, for the South Africans, nothing more than that: England’s approach to batting as designed by their new captain and coach.

But, considering the number of questions the visitors have been asked about ‘Bazball’ since they arrived in England, you would have thought it was all their idea. Even Stokes got it wrong at a press conference on Tuesday: “The opposition seem to be doing a lot of talking at the moment about it. We don’t really speak about it that much. We just concentrate on what we do. We’ve got a style of play, they’ve got a style of play. At the end of the day, it’s bat against ball. Whoever plays best over a Test match is more than likely to win. We don’t dive into it too much, but we’re happy for Dean [Elgar] and the South African team to keep saying they’re not interested but then also keep talking about it. So, yeah …”

Closer to the truth is that the South Africans wouldn’t have to keep talking about ‘Bazball’ if they weren’t asked about it endlessly. Consequently, Elgar could hardly be faulted for running out of patience on the topic. “With all due respect I’m not going to entertain that anymore,” he told a press 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 anymore about that.”

So, what else is there to talk about ahead of the start of the Test series at Lord’s on Wednesday? For one thing, whether England will pull off a fifth consecutive win in the format under the new regime. For another, whether South Africa will chalk up a fifth consecutive series without defeat under Elgar. For still another, whether the change in London’s weather from stinking hot, which it has been for weeks on end, to grey and soggy on the eve of the match will change much in terms of tactics and team composition.

The latter isn’t a significant consideration for the home side with Jack Leach the only specialist spinner in their squad. But the likelihood of South Africa deploying both Keshav Maharaj and Simon Harmer — a serious possibility on sun-baked late summer pitches — would seem to be receding.

Another question is how South Africa’s lack of experience of the conditions — in their dressing room only Elgar, Maharaj and Kagiso Rabada have played Tests in England before — will stand up to the scrutiny they are sure to face from perhaps the most aggressive team in the game. But Elgar’s team know plenty about dealing with pressure, having recovered from defeats to draw in New Zealand in February and beat India at home in March. 

As always before the start of a series, and particularly a rubber involving opponents who last met in these conditions four years ago, there are more questions than answers. In the choice words of former US defence sectary Donald Rumsfeld, “Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tends to be the difficult ones.”

Nothing has yet happened in this Test series. But that doesn’t mean the wheels are not in motion. Far from it. Tuesday’s rain put itself in the way of the teams’ final preparations and seem set to delay or interrupt, or both, proceedings on Wednesday.

Happily one rainy day, if indeed it pans out that way, does not a dull series make. Many other opportunities will present themselves at Lord’s, Old Trafford and the Oval to answer all sorts of questions — not least whether cricketers and ‘Bazballers’ belong on the same field playing the same game for the same audience. A hot summer is about to get hotter still. 

When: Wednesday, August 17, 2022; 11am Local Time

Where: Lord’s, London

What to expect: Rain. Tuesday morning was wet in London, ending weeks of dry, hot weather. More of the same has been forecast from mid-morning on Wednesday. 

Team news:

England: Ben Foakes comes in for Sam Billings in the only change from the side who beat India by seven wickets at Edgbaston last month. 

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

South Africa: Kagiso Rabada, Elgar said, was “very close to being fully fit” in the wake of missing last week’s tour match in Canterbury with an ankle injury. 

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

What they said:

“In simple terms it’s always trying to put the pressure on the opposition, but also understanding when we needed to absorb that pressure. When we have felt like we’ve had to absorb pressure from the opposition, we’ve still done it in a positive way. And that’s been one of the most pleasing things to look back on: when we do feel like we’ve been up against it, we’ve understood that but we’ve still tried to always put the pressure back onto them.” – Ben Stokes on the flip side of ‘Bazball’.

“We will be required to slow down their batting. Our bowlers are big, tall, fast, strong buggers.” – Dean Elgar outlines South Africa’s plan for battling ‘Bazball’.

First published by Cricbuzz.

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The buck stops with the B-word