It is not exactly Antonio Conte v Thomas Tuchel but it does seem England have got under South Africa’s skin before a ball has been bowled in this summer’s marquee Test series.
Specifically, it is the use of a certain term that has caused South Africa to get somewhat hot under the collar ahead of the first Test on Tuesday at Lord’s.
For if Brendon McCullum is not exactly enamoured with branding England’s new high-octane style of play ‘Bazball’ then that’s nothing compared to the reaction of Dean Elgar.
South Africa supremo Mark Boucher is preparing his team to face England at Lord’s on Tuesday
Evergreen Jimmy Anderson says England are enjoying Brendon McCullum’s ‘Bazball’ approach
First the gritty South African captain said England risked ending up with ‘egg on their faces’ by playing in a way that brought them four tumultuous victories in four Tests under new leadership against New Zealand and India earlier this summer.
Then Elgar, who is believed to find England’s new methods ‘disrespectful’ to the grand old form of the game, told his team not to use the offensive B-word.
So annoyed was Anrich Nortje when asked about ‘Bazball’ during South Africa’s defeat by the Lions last week he shot a journalist the sort of hostile look he would reserve for Jimmy Anderson had he just reverse ramped him for six.
Another South African bowler, meanwhile, apologetically told a writer the only topic off-limits in an interview was the methods England have introduced to try to save Test cricket at a time when it is under threat from domestic franchises like never before.
England coach Brendon McCullum’s style has taken cricket by storm ahead of their latest Test
It was revealing on Sunday when Mark Boucher, the South Africa coach, brought up the subject ahead of his Lord’s press conference when he joked that anyone mentioning ‘Bazball’ would have to down a shot of tequila.
It was a bit like Basil Fawlty being paranoid about mentioning the war in front of his German guests. Boucher mentioned ‘Bazball’ once but he did not really get away with it.
‘We haven’t talked much about it,’ said Boucher a little unconvincingly when asked if South Africa had been defeated by what might be termed ‘Baby Bazball’ when they were thrashed by a Lions side who smashed them for 672 in just 117 overs at Canterbury.
‘I know they’ve given their style a name over here. We’ve not given ours a name. We believe we’ve been playing a nice brand of cricket and we’ve had some tight series of late where we’ve come out on top. We want to play aggressive cricket but you have to be smart.
‘Nothing will change for us. This is an England versus South Africa series and there’s always a lot of hype in the media. A lot of things get said but the bottom line is it’s a game between bat and ball and you have to make decisions at certain times of the game.’
But can South Africa, leading the World Test Championship table, find a way of stopping what was beginning to look like an English Test juggernaut before an ill-timed six week break from Test cricket ahead of this series?
‘I don’t know,’ said Boucher. ‘I’ll tell you on the day. We’ve got to be adaptable in Test cricket.
‘So we don’t know what conditions are going to be like. It’s just about finding a way to try and stop them, stop their momentum and finding a way to change it.’
One player definitely happy to talk yesterday about methods introduced by coach McCullum and new captain Ben Stokes was Anderson, who has not only been reintroduced to the England side after his omission from the West indies tour but revitalised by it.
‘We’re all very excited to be back,’ said Anderson, who celebrated his 40th birthday during the white-ball enforced break from Test cricket at high summer.
‘The first thing Ben said in the dressing room was how much he had missed being around this group.
‘Dean Elgar has his opinion. They have their way of playing Test cricket and Ben and Brendon have their way of wanting to go about it. So we are buying into that, trying to play our way, and we are absolutely loving it.’
Anderson expects a pioneering style that is re-writing the Test playbook, whatever Elgar thinks, to spread through the game, too. ‘I hope so,’ he said.
‘Ben and Brendon will want players coming through who can fit into this ethos. That will mean them having to play a certain way for the Lions and their counties.
‘I know there’s still a lot of scepticism out there among county coaches that this isn’t a sustainable way of playing but we believe differently.’
Anderson, as fit and firing as ever, will become the first specialist England seamer in his 40s to take a Test wicket since Les Jackson in 1960 as and when he strikes at Lord’s in what is expected to be an unchanged team from the record-breaking victory over India.
‘I feel proud to have got to where I have,’ he said. ‘I feel fortunate as well that I’ve still got that love for the game and desire to get better. I still want to do the training, the nets and whatever goes with it.
‘With a lot of people that desire is the first thing to go and you start slowing up and winding down.
‘But I feel like the passion is still there and I’m fortunate my body is still functioning and allowing me to do the job I love.’