Ben Stokes has claimed on the eve of the first Test against South Africa that England’s ultra-positive approach to the format – commonly known as “Bazball” – has got into the heads of their opponents, even if the Proteas captain, Dean Elgar, continues to insist is as likely to lead to embarrassment as glory.
Elgar had claimed previously to have “absolutely no interest in the style that they’ve played”, but in the home dressing room his words do not seem to have been taken at face value. “I guess the more you talk about something the more it is in your head,” Stokes said.
“The opposition seem to be doing a lot of talking about it. We just concentrate on what we do.
“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 I’m happy for Dean and the South African team to keep saying they’re not interested but then also keep talking about it.”
South Africa’s preparations for the series culminated in an emphatic defeat to an England Lions XI that enthusiastically adopted the first-team approach, a match that delighted one side and has been dismissed by the other.
“I read absolutely nothing into that warmup game,” Elgar said on Tuesday. “It was a good exercise for us, and if they come out playing like that in an official Test match and it goes pear-shaped, that’s not going to look very good for England.”
We will soon find out what this England side might do to South Africa, but one thing they are unlikely to do is surprise them. “It’s probably something a team has never had to plan for before, the way we are approaching our cricket at the moment, because it’s so new and so fresh to the Test format,” Stokes said.
“But what I will say is they’ve had more time to prepare than New Zealand or India had, because they’ve seen what we’ve done in four games. We won’t look at it like that. The focus is all on us and how we are going to play, combating whatever they have with what we have, in our way.”
South Africa have studied England’s performances during their run of four successive Test victories this summer. The conclusion is that theirs is a stronger side than those England previously faced, 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 to adapt,” said Elgar, whose team have won seven of their past nine Tests. “I think that is going to be a massive factor for us in this series, especially if England do have a flyer. I know somewhere they are going to have periods in the game when they are on top of us, and we are going to have to find a way to adapt to that situation.
“I think there has been a lot of learnings since watching those series unfold the way they did. I do think we are a smarter side and adaptability is extremely big for me.
“Everyone has a good buy-in with regards to parking their personal stuff; to do what we require to slow down their batting, for instance. I would like to think from a bowling point of view, our bowlers are big, tall, fast and strong buggers.
“I think we come in with a lot more resources. I’m not going to diss the opposition they played against, but I am purely speaking from a South African point of view. I think we have covered all bases and ticked all the boxes in the right kind of angle to curb those moments in the game.”
With rain forecast on Wednesday South Africa will assess conditions and Kagiso Rabada’s fitness before naming their XI, while England change the side that defeated India at Edgbaston last month only by returning the gloves to Ben Foakes, who missed that game with covid and replaces Sam Billings.
Having rattled off successful fourth-innings run chases in all four games so far this summer, the one potential novelty will come if they are forced to bowl their way to victory. “If we’ve got 40 overs to bowl a team out on day five we’ll be doing everything we can to do that,” Stokes said. “We won’t just stick to the normal things. You’ll see us changing a lot of plans if we feel like something isn’t going to work. We’ll keep the same mindset with the ball as with the bat.”
The Marylebone Cricket Club announced on Tuesday that, should the Lord’s Test reach a fifth day on Sunday, all tickets will be available for a donation of £5, with proceeds split between two charities: the Ruth Strauss Foundation and the MCC Foundation. Tickets will be available at www.lords.org from 2pm on Wednesday.