When the five-minute bell rings around Lord’s this morning, Ben Stokes’s England and Dean Elgar’s South Africa will walk through the Pavilion’s Long Room and out, past the members, into the arena known as the Home of Cricket.
But this England side, under their New Zealander coach Brendon McCullum, have embraced a style of Test cricket wildly at odds with the genteel game that graced the creases at Lord’s more than a century ago.
Bazball – a term coined for McCullum’s swashbuckling batting style but disliked by him – has already revolutionised the perception of cricket’s longest form and seen England chase incredibly high totals to win four successive Tests against the Black Caps and India.
The ethos of McCullum’s eponymous approach – batters playing without fear since they will, probably, get out at some point anyway – has also seen Test cricket drift closer to its newest competition, The Hundred. In a new summer window, The Hundred sees some of the world’s most explosive men’s and women’s players demonstrate their confidence at the crease.
Eight of England’s wider squad for this series with South Africa have featured in The Hundred this season, including former captain Joe Root. Four of those eight will start today.
It would have been 10 in the squad, but captain Stokes and big-hitting Jonny Bairstow withdrew from the Northern Superchargers and Welsh Fire respectively to manage their workload – a sign of the issues that remain in England’s domestic calendar.
But with a white-ball mentality increasingly creeping into the Test set-up, can The Hundred play into England’s Bazball mindset?
Perhaps: Harry Brook has the fourth best batting average in the 100-ball competition with 45 for the Northern Superchargers, while Southern Brave’s Craig Overton has the third best strike rate in the tournament.
The duo will be part of today’s wider Test squad but not in the starting XI, with Stokes opting to use the likes of Ollie Pope and Matthew Potts. Nevertheless, The Hundred has provided some fringe players with a chance to prove themselves in the squad.
“We’ve got a style of play, they [South Africa] have got a style of play. At the end of the day, it’s bat against ball and whoever plays best over a Test match is most likely to win,” Stokes said yesterday. “For me, it’s just about reiterating the points that we were making at the start of the summer – our mindset, attitude and everything like that – about how we go out and play our cricket.
“Personally, I think that’s the most important thing at the moment for this team. Believing in what we speak in the changing room, going out there and trying to deliver on what we say.”
South Africa have been keen to talk up Bazball’s impact while also exclaiming their disregard for the tactic – seemingly looking for an early psychological win. But the Proteas, the current World Test Championship leaders, could come into this series undercooked. A warm-up match against the England Lions saw the tourists lose by an innings and 56 runs, while over the last four years they have played just 26 Tests – 27 fewer than England.
Bazball is what England are committing to, and with much of the wider squad featuring in The Hundred, the Stokes-McCullum era could lead to a side entirely made up of versatile Bazballers.