‘Bazball’ returns, but will South Africa drink to that?


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

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

It was after noon so the shot glasses could have come out but the South Africa coach had no Jose Cuervo or Patron on hand (as far as we know) and no one mentioned the B word by name in the 17 minutes and He sat in front of us for 45 seconds.

In fact, no one has mentioned a B word regarding a cricket style of play, even if the situation is ready for a new one. Bouchball, anyone? Too early?

Let’s pretend it isn’t and ask what a Bouchball approach would look like, whether we want to call it that or not. “A nice brand of cricket”, Boucher described South Africa’s playing style, making it sound like nothing more than a comforting cup of tea, maybe lemonade given the weather, but that’s not quite the way to talk about a team that has Haven’t lost a test run in a year.

“We want to play cricket aggressively, but you have to be smart about that too,” Bouchers explains in more detail about the type of cricket his team plays. He has also talked about adaptability, in different circumstances and with different team combinations, about team efforts instead of superstars, and about their ability to bounce back from difficult situations.

South Africa lost the opening test against number 1 ranked India on Boxing Day and then won the series 2-1 to start a strong home summer. They then came back from a defeat to the Lions in their first game on this tour to draw the ODI series and win the T20 rubber and hope that after beating an innings by 56 runs in the four-day tour game, where they “learned to get the ball”, they will come back to be successful in the Tests.

It is not unfamiliar territory for South Africa to win in England with an inexperienced team. The first time they did it, in 2008, Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and Boucher were the only batters on the previous tour, while Makhaya Ntini was the only fast bowler. This time, only Dean Elgar, Kagiso Rabada (who is in doubt for the first Test, although making good progress from an ankle injury) and Keshav Maharaj have played here before.

The lack of game time in England could be a concern, especially as the series kicks off with a great sense of opportunity at Lord’s, and Boucher hopes inspiration will trump inexperience over the next week.

“We talked about coming to Lord’s and the feeling of walking through the gate and that emotion of playing in the house of cricket. It’s a different feeling when you walk through those gates compared to any other gate in the world,” said Boucher. “And all you had to do was be around when the boys arrived and walked into the museum. All the players stared in awe at what was around them. Just watch the players’ reactions to walking into Lord’s – there’s a lot “Passion. The emotions ran high in a good way. As a coach, you don’t have to try and get the guys ready for a game like this. The young people want to be here and they want to be part of creating something special.”

South Africa’s players were treated to a special section of memories made just for them, harking back to previous tours here. They also got to see some old favorites that even caught the attention of those who have seen them before.

“Guys who had been here still looked around, still looked at WG Grace’s gloves and said, ‘I don’t know if I could wear those today,'” Boucher said. “They’ve set up a beautiful South African section for us. We’ve been successful here, so hopefully we can look at that and know that memories can be created in this location. They’d love to be part of more memories.”

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

Whether those methods include a little bit of tequila we won’t know, but Boucher hasn’t ruled out a few visits to the bar — maybe even before the game. Asked if he expects England’s dedication to Bazball, which appears to involve a chase, to extend to bowling first if they win the toss regardless of the circumstances, Boucher said he didn’t know but had a way to find out. “Maybe I’ll have a beer with Baz later and ask him,” he said.

Bottoms up. Let’s play.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South African correspondent