On the eve of the first Test against South Africa, Ben Stokes claimed that England’s ultra-positive approach to the format, commonly known as “Bazball”, got into their opponents’ heads, even if Proteas captain Dean Elgar keep going. insisting on it is as likely to lead to shame as it is to glory.
Elgar had previously claimed he had “absolutely no interest in the style they’ve played”, but in the home dressing room his words don’t appear to have been taken at face value. “I guess the more you talk about something, the more it’s in your head,” Stokes said.
“The opposition seems to be talking about it a lot. We just focus on what we do. At the end of the day, it’s bat versus ball, whoever plays better in a test match has a better chance of winning. We didn’t dive too deep into it, but I’m happy that Dean and the South African team keep saying they’re not interested, but they keep talking about it as well.”
South Africa’s preparations for the series culminated in a resounding loss to an England Lions XI who enthusiastically embraced the first-team approach, a game that charmed one side and been dismissed by the other.
“I read absolutely nothing in that prep game,” Elgar said Tuesday. “It was a good exercise for us, and if they come out playing like that in an official Test match and it all goes wrong, that’s not going to look too good for England.”
We’ll soon find out what this England side could do to South Africa, but one thing they’re unlikely to do is surprise them. “It’s probably something that a team has never had to plan for before, the way we’re approaching our cricket at the moment, because it’s so new and so fresh in the Test format,” Stokes said.
“But what I will say is that they have had more time to prepare than New Zealand or India, because they have seen what we have done in four games. We won’t look at it that way. The focus is on us and how we’re going to play, fighting whatever they have with what we have, in our own way.”
South Africa have studied England’s performances during their four-match winning streak earlier this summer. The bottom line is that theirs are a stronger team than any England have faced before, and better prepared for whatever Brendon McCullum’s charges can throw at them.
“One of our biggest strengths as a Test side over this last period has been our awareness of adapting,” said Elgar, whose team has won seven of its last nine Tests. “I think it will be a huge factor for us in this series, especially if England have a flyer. I know that somewhere they will have periods in the game where they will be on top of us and we will have to find a way to adapt to that situation. I think there’s been a lot of learning from seeing those series develop the way they did. I think we are a smarter side and adaptability is extremely important to me.
“Everyone has a good acceptance regarding the parking of their personal things; to do what we need to slow down his batting, for example. I would like to think that from a bowling point of view our bowlers are big, tall, fast and strong. I think we come with many more resources. I’m not going to criticize the opposition they played against, but I’m speaking purely from a South African point of view. I think we covered all the bases and checked all the boxes at the right angle to stop those moments in the game.”
With rain forecast on Wednesday, South Africa will assess Kagiso Rabada’s condition and fitness before naming their XI, while England switch sides that beat India at Edgbaston last month only handing the gloves back to Ben Foakes, who is he lost that game through injury and replaces Sam Billings. . Having rattled off successful fourth-inning run chases in all four games so far this summer, the only potential novelty will come if they are forced to claw their way to victory.
“If we have 40 overs to knock a team out on day five, we will do everything we can to make it happen,” Stokes said. “We will not limit ourselves to normal things. You will see us changing many plans if we feel that something is not going to work. We’ll keep the same mentality with the ball as we do with the bat.”
Marylebone Cricket Club announced on Tuesday that, if the Lord’s Test makes it to a fifth day on Sunday, all tickets will be available for a £5 donation, with proceeds split between two charities: the Ruth Strauss Foundation and the MCC Foundation. Tickets will be available at www.lords.org beginning at 2 pm Wednesday.