South Africa in England 2022


Alright, line ’em up because we’re going to need them.

“If you mention Bazball you’ve got to have a tequila,” Mark Boucher joked (maybe). “I’ll bring the bottle.”

It was after 12pm so the shot glasses could have come out, but South Africa’s coach didn’t have any Jose Cuervo or Patron to hand (that we know of) and no-one mentioned the B-word by name in the 17 minutes and 45 seconds he sat in front of us.

In fact, no-one mentioned any B-word in relation to a cricket playing style even though the situation is ready-made for a new one. Bouchball, anyone? Too soon?

Let’s pretend it’s not and ask what a Bouchball approach would look like, whether we want to name it or not. “A nice brand of cricket,” is how Boucher described South Africa’s style of play, which makes it sound like little more than a comforting cup of tea, perhaps lemonade given the weather, but that’s not quite the way to talk about a team that hasn’t lost a Test series in a year.

“We want to play aggressive cricket but you’ve got to be smart with regards to that as well,” is Boucher’s more detailed explanation of the kind of cricket his team play. He has also spoken about being adaptable, in different conditions and with different team combinations, of team efforts, rather than superstars, and of their ability to bounce back from difficult situations.

South Africa lost the opening Test against No.1 ranked India on Boxing Day and then won the series 2-1 to kick off a strong home summer. They then came back from defeat to the Lions in their first match on this tour to draw the ODI series and win the T20 rubber and will hope that after being defeated by an innings in 56 runs in the four-day tour match, where they “learnt to fetch the ball,” they will come back to have success in the Tests.

It’s not uncharted territory for South Africa to win in England with an inexperienced squad. The first time they did it, in 2008, Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and Boucher were the only batters who were part of the previous tour while Makhaya Ntini was the only fast bowler. This time, only Dean Elgar, Kagiso Rabada (who remains in doubt for the first Test although he is progressing well from an ankle injury) and Keshav Maharaj have played here before.

The lack of game time in England may be a concern, especially as the series starts with a great sense of occasion at Lord’s, and Boucher is hoping inspiration will trump inexperience over the next week.

“We spoke about coming to Lord’s and the feeling of walking through the gate and that emotion of playing at the home of cricket. It’s a different feeling when you walk through those gates compared to any other gate in the world,” Boucher said. “And you only had to be around when the guys arrived and walked into the museum. All the players just staring in awe at what was around them. Just watching the players’ reactions to walking into Lord’s – there’s a lot of passion. The emotions were running high in a good way. As a coach, you don’t have to try and get the boys geed up for a game like this. The youngsters want to be here and they want to be a part of creating something special.”

South Africa’s players were treated to a special section of memories created just for them, harking back to previous tours here. They were also shown some old favourites which caught the eyes of even those who’ve seen them before.

“Guys who had been here were still looking around, still looking at WG Grace’s gloves and going, ‘I don’t know if I could wear those today,'” Boucher said. “They put on a nice South African section for us. We’ve been successful here so hopefully we can look at that and know that there are memories to be created at this venue. They would like to be a part of more memories.”

Of course, the history and the place South Africa find themselves in now – the top of the World Test Championship table – also means there’s a sense of pressure. But Boucher and a backroom staff that includes Neil McKenzie, Charl Langeveldt and Justin Ontong believe they’ve equipped the squad with enough support to cope. “It’s about us as a coaching staff trying to give the guys certain tools to deal with the pressures,” Boucher said. “And it’s a great feeling, especially if you can overcome that [the sense of occasion] and do well.”

Whether those methods include a little bit of tequila, we won’t know but Boucher hasn’t ruled out some visits to the bar – perhaps even before the game. Asked if he expects England’s commitment to Bazball, which seems to involve chasing, to extend to bowling first if they win the toss, no matter the conditions, Boucher said he didn’t know but had a way to find out. “Maybe I will have a beer with Baz later and ask him,” he said.

Bottoms up. Let’s play.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent



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