Well, I’m astounded, gobsmacked, dumbfounded, and totally stunned. I never thought I’d see a team score at seven runs per over across two innings of Test match. I just didn’t think it would be possible. And yet, here we are, struggling to comprehend a victory that turns everything I thought I knew about Test cricket on its head.
Now, I’m not going to pretend that BazBall will work every time. But it’s already working a lot often more than I thought it would. And it’s also accomplishing more than I had ever imagined. There was a time when I was deeply sceptical that an all out attack approach would be sustainable. I still am in some ways. However, you can’t argue with the win column. And England winning on a pitch like that – a pitch with about as much life as morgue – because they created extra time for their bowlers by scoring at a historically unprecedented rate is enough to make any traditionalist question how they see the game. What we’re seeing simply isn’t compatible with the preexisting model in my head.
It struck me yesterday that Brendon McCullum deserves a lot more credit than he’s currently getting from the sceptics. Yes, an attacking philosophy isn’t exactly novel, but his team is executing it to greater extremes, and with far more success, than Trevor Bayliss and other positive-minded coaches have managed in the past. What’s more, perhaps we should appreciate that McCullum, like any good football manager, is simply utilising a strategy that best suits the players available.
Put yourself in McCullum’s shoes, for a minute… You’re an overseas coach who’s been given the opportunity to coach England. The arguments about the country’s domestic structure, therefore, aren’t your primary concern. And it’s certainly not in your job description to fix county cricket’s perceived ills. Your remit is simply to get results. So what do you do? McCullum has cannily identified that the country is jam-packed with world class attacking batsmen – largely thanks to the counties who produced them, I might add – whereas top class red ball talents who might succeed the likes of Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott are thin on the ground.
Therefore, rather than trying to forge top quality Test players from the likes of Dom Sibley and Haseeb Hameed, who often take 40 balls to reach double figures before getting dismissed cheaply, McCullum obviously believes he has more chance of winning more games by simply backing our attacking players who, after all, do what they do a hell of a lot better than the so-called first class specialists. Rory Burns, for example, will never be a world-class Test opener. But Harry Brook, on the other hand, has the natural talent to one day develop into a world-class counter-attacking middle order player. What I’m saying, obviously, is that BazBall isn’t just a philosophy that McCullum has pulled out of his rear. It’s actually a practical approach given that England currently have zero Alastair Cooks waiting in the wings but a surfeit of attacking options. If I was England’s head coach, I’d be tempted to do exactly the same thing.
So where does this leave us? Sure, we could do with another complete batter like Joe Root, who can adapt to the circumstances beautifully and play like a traditional Test match batsman. And it would be particularly brilliant if this player was an opener, too. However, there’s nobody coming through the ranks who looks like a potential superstar in the making with the ability to bat time and grind the opposition down. Consequently, it makes sense to focus on what the current crop can do.
The good news is that I’m beginning to think we’ll win more games than we lose playing this way. Recent evidence certainly suggests this. So there’s no point bemoaning our failings when things do eventually go awry. This England team isn’t the Australian side of the late 1990s or the Windies of the 1980s; therefore winning more than we lose – and accepting the risks when BazBall doesn’t come off – seems perfectly acceptable to me. At least it will be entertaining to watch.
It’s also important to understand, of course, that there are bigger issues than England winning Test matches at stake. Test cricket is under threat. The public wants to be entertained. And the crowds in Rawalpindi suggest that there’s certainly the appetite for cricket played in an attacking fashion. England often play in front of one man and a goat when they travel overseas. How brilliant to see the Pakistanis turn up and celebrate the longest form of the game, even though the home team were often under the cosh. It certainly warmed my cockles.
However, it wasn’t just the batsmen that won this game. England have long struggled to take 20 wickets away from home on flat surfaces. But not this time. Jimmy Anderson was imperious, recording figures of 5-88 from 46 overs on an absolute road. Man of the match Ollie Robinson was also excellent, especially in the second innings when he took the vital breakthrough wickets late in the day. Ben Stokes also bowled well. And let’s not forget the spinners, Jack Leach and Will Jacks, who took a combined 9-445 off 113 overs. These might not seem like spectacular figures but they comfortably out-bowled Pakistan’s slow bowlers and did the donkey work when the batsmen were on top in the first innings.
Before I sign off, I’d quickly like to mention Ben Stokes’s captaincy. It’s so refreshing to see a captain keep close fielders in, and show faith in his bowlers, after a decade of conservatism under Cook and then Root. Yes, Ben probably takes too many risks for some of us. I personally would’ve batted for another 40 mins yesterday – 340 on that pitch was probably only worth 280 in normal conditions – but he was vindicated in the end.
I don’t want to trot out the old cliché that you’ve got to risk defeat to win (one can win cricket matches in numerous ways). Declarations are always judgement calls and you either end up looking very clever or very stupid depending on how well your team bowls and how well the opposition bats. However, what’s becoming more and more apparent is that Stokes seems to have a gut feel for the game, and for captaincy in general; therefore he’s getting a lot more right than wrong at the moment. In fact, Stokes seems to have the midas touch in everything he does. Long may it continue.
Tune in next time when I slag off BazBall mercilessly after we fall flat on our faces in the next two games.
Since he was appointed full time captain Stokes has recorded seven victories in eight test matches. This one was achieved on a lifeless pitch and was only possible because England scored twice as fast as Pakistan and because of Stokes’ judgement in declaring when he did. Pakistan almost escaped with a draw – had they survived another nine balls, to the end of the 98th over, the light would almost certainly have faded enough for the players to be forced off. At the tea break all four results were still on becvause although 86 in the final session with five wickets standing and two set batters together does not look that difficult a)Pakistan had no other remotely useful batters to come after that pair and b)the inevitable early closure due to fading late meant there was a much tighter time limit than officially indicated. I produced a post of my own about today’s events: https://aspi.blog/2022/12/05/a-test-match-for-the-ages/
I thought Stokes’s captaincy was superb. A great effort from everyone, though Harry Brook must be wondering what more he has to do to get a Man of the Match!
As for Test Cricket, I watched the end of the Australia/West Indies match. It didn’t look like there were more than 500 spectators there. Very sad…
Wait until the Saffas arrive.
Yes, rather than mould the players to the format Baz and Ben have moulded the format to the players. Breathtaking and brilliant. I wonder how many lovers of Test cricket (of whom I am one!) will be willing to concede that today’s victory could never have happened without T20? Could the short form actually prove to be Test cricket’s salvation?
It is certainly changing batting just as limited overs cricket changed fielding. It is a game which adapts well to generational change.
Two of your points in particular resonate with me, James. First, taking 20 wickets on that pitch is a massive achievement and, second, your comment about Stokes having a gut feel for the game and for captaincy is right on the button. So many of his decisions – and I don’t think he made a bad one in five days – were based on his feel for the game. The declaration for example was neither gung ho optimism nor based, as far as I can tell, on detailed analysis. I often think that when someone is talked of as having a sixth sense, it is actually an ability, often without even realising it, to process information differently and hence draw different conclusions from other people. Stokes the captain has this ability and it showed in his declaration. I can’t think of another England captain who would have done anything but settle for the draw – Illingworth maybe : he was a shrewd reader of the game; Greig or Botham out of sheer bravado. I think only the fact that Pakistan are not the strongest of sides stops this from being England’s best ever away performance, during my cricket watching lifetime, but it is right up there with the best.
What is interesting to me about Stokes is that he still believes in picking the best keeper in Foakes (when fit obviously) and spinner in Leach- whereas Root on occasion picked Bess on the basis of better fielding and batting. So the fact is he is willing to pick specialists in key positions, if they are the best players available, rather than for instance get a more attacking batsman to keep (such as Billings) which might seem a more natural extension of “Bazball.”
“Bazball” is actually about winning.
Hard enough creating chances at this level without the keeper missing chances.
If only playing one spinner you pick your best one – any other decision is negative and IMO wrong.
Can’t quite believe what I saw over the 5 days but a victory with minutes left of the 5th day is what makes test cricket great. When even Mark Waugh is saying nice things about us on twitter the world is clearly stood on its head.
When you write it down it seems even more ridiculous – England batted for 138 overs give or take and scored just over 900 runs. You would win most ODIs and some T20s at that rate but as others have said in the end that gave them the time to take 20 wickets. There was a question posed in the summer of would England score 500 in a day of a test or 500 in an ODI first. Don’t think I ever thought it would be the former.
The scoring rates are even more remarkable because there are no field restrictions in Test cricket. It should be relatively simple, on paper, to slow the scoring. Yet England still managed a run rate that would’ve secured a total near 350 in an ODI.
Agreed. A remarkable match, conditions notwithstanding.
Lovely article. Ben Stokes is a born
leader and tactically very astute. The players look like they they would follow him anywhere and everywhere. It is so refreshing seeing them really enjoying their cricket despite intercurrent illness hitting the squad as well as having punishing schedule to follow.
Congratulations to all involved.
Agree Stokes is a good leader.
Any doubts I had about his suitability were more than addressed when he captained our weakened ODI squad in the series against Pakistan, despite patently not being fit himself, when they were excellent.
The declaration was spot on. Another half an hour and Pakistan would have shut up shop earlier and it would have been a draw. Stokes pulled something out of a hat when on day 3 looked it looked like a mind dumbing draw on a pitch worse than the M25. Adam Hollioake did a lot of early declarations in Surreys great Championship years around the Millennium. Dangle a carrot he’d say, and if they are good enough to get them, well good luck. Most times they didn’t. The great bowling attack of Bicknell, Saqlain, Ormond and Tudor saw to that.The fast scoring in this match set it up but the timing of this declaration by Stokes could not have been better.
As you said James the pitch was an absolute Road and without Afridi their bowling was rather pedestrian. Let’s wait to see what happens when the ball does a bit. That’s the test of mind over matter that seems to define Bazball. Great to see Jimmy strutting his stuff abroad. As they say class is permanent.
Anderson is quite remarkable. I swear he’s just as good now as he’s ever been. In fact, he’s probably better.
Dear James (and others),
I have 3 questions for you:
1) Does your post indicate that your boycott of “the brand” has ended?
2) Would you now agree that McCullum was indeed the right appointment, partly because of his willingness and ability to subvert the prevailing culture of English cricket? Could an English coach have achieved the same?
3) What does it mean for the Ashes?
“Could an English coach have achieved the same?”
We all know the answer. The real question is why?
Why couldn’t an English coach have achieved the same results as McCullum?
A question worth pondering.
2. Yes and eh?
3. England haven’t lost the Ashes at home since 2001 and I think there’s a decent chance this record could last for a few years longer.
1) You don’t recall announcing that you’ll no longer support “the brand”?
2) Which part of the question is confusing? Could an English coach have achieved the same results as McCullum? I suggest a foreign coach was required.
3) As Australia holds the Ashes, a draw for England won’t suffice.
Tom, it’s hard debating English cricket with you because you don’t keep up. Tom Harrison and Colin Graves, the people who have caused English cricket so many problems have moved on. There’s a new duo in charge at the ECB who have the support and confidence of the majority of supporters and the counties.
As for this persistent premise of yours that English cricketers (and now coaches) are somehow intrinsically inferior – an assertion which seems based on your pigheaded Australian nationalism – this got tedious long ago and I won’t engage with such a fatuous argument.
You’re obviously focusing on the overseas coach because what you’ve just witnessed – 11 Englishmen playing out of their skins and breaking new ground in Test cricket – obviously doesn’t fit with your peculiar myopic narrative. After all, culturally inferior English cricketers can’t possibly produce anything remotely impressive in your book. It must be something external that explains this strange development. Maybe we won the World T20 because we were eating Australian food (or something) at the time? 🤦♂️
Are we debating? Ok, if you like.
I merely asked if your sulky tweets about no longer supporting England still apply. Some of them were quite recent. But if you’ve had a change of heart, I’m pleased to hear it.
As for the coaching, why is that question taboo? England has only had success under foreign coaches. Do you think that’s a coincidence?
My argument isn’t about “intrinsic superiority”. It’s not some kind of sporting eugenics. My argument is that there are cultural differences between Australian cricket and English cricket, and that these have contributed to Australia being better and more successful generally. Is that really so controversial? The fact that you overreact so negatively suggests there’s more than a kernel of truth to it.
As for the T20, I can honestly say I’ve never watched a T20 game from start to finish. Simply not my cup of tea. Wasn’t there a T20 World Cup last year as well? Do we have one annually? But congratulations all the same.
And the cheap ad hominem does you no favours, James.
Yes, of course, it’s my horrid “Australian nationalism” that you find objectionable.
Because English sports fans would never go in for something as bad as “nationalism”.
Surely you can do better than that?
And James, for the record, it was only in August that you said this: “I can no longer support any ECB related team or event.”
So I guess it’s all turned around since then?
In July, you said: “It’s actually becoming harder and harder to support England imho. English cricket, in my opinion, has completely lost its soul.”
Seems like you’ve made a miraculous recovery!
Oh do us all a favour and shut up.
I agree that “Bazball” has been helped by the emergence of definitely one (Pope) and hopefully two (Brook) champion quick scoring middle order batsmen (yes I know Pope is batting at 3) to supplement Root (the best English batsman of my cricket watching life who naturally scores at a good rate.) Also Bairstow was exceptional – The captain is happy to smash it and show bravado, but often his best innings begin far more circumspectly than the others, almost as though he is being old fashioned and playing himself in before accelerating…
Yet again, what might have been an enjoyable win gets ruined by a ridiculous media over-reaction (especially Hussain’s immediate canonisation of Stokes and talk of “the greatest ever”).
While winning away and in style are good parts of a triumph, the third factor is being ignored – the quality of the opposition. It seems assumed that because Pakistan were good once, they must be good now. The bowling attack they put out bears some examination – three debutants and a 19 year old with a Test bowling average near 40. Their first choice bowlers (and they aren’t even that great) Shaheen and Hasan were missing. Amir is only 30 and everybody’s forgotten him. I am kinda glad the PCB’s attempt to cover up their weakness by preparing a shirtfront blew up – and it’s obviously deliberate because the Australia series was exactly the same.
Pakistan’s last good Test series reuslt was when they beat Australia in 2018/19. Back then, they still had players like Hafeez and Asad Shafiq in the batting and Abbas and Yasir Shah to bowl. Misbah and Younis Khan had just departed. Since then, they’ve lost to Australia and NZ twice and England once. Their wins have been against teams even worse than them – SL, Bangladesh (twice), SA and Zimbabwe. It’s a team on the crest of a slump – like SL after Sanga and Jayawardene retired. The Pakistan team England beat in 2000/01 included Saeed Anwar, Inzamam, Mohammad Yousuf, Waqar Younis and Saqlain. Only Babar of this team is near that quality.
Basically, this is the cricket world that 2014 was designed to create – the rich bully-boys beating up everyone else who’s been sawn off at the knees The Perth Test was more of the same.
One might also note that, judging by the highlights, England won because the ball on the last day suddenly started reverse-swinging having offered no movement for the previous four days. That should raise an eyebrow….
Glad to see that England couldn’t possibly have won without there being some conspiracy-related reason for it…:-)
While I rather agree overall with the strength–or otherwise–of Pakistan’s bowling, but going into this game Naseem this year had 13 wickets at under 27 in 4 tests on some of the least seamer-friendly pitches you could (not) wish to encounter. Afridi, at the age of 22, averages under 25 and takes a wicket every 49 balls–that is, only nine bowlers since the First World War have taken more wickets and struck more often. If that’s “not that great”, heaven knows where that leaves some of England’s bowlers! And you’re wondering why everyone’s forgotten the bowler who averages six runs more and takes his wickets 15 balls a wicket less frequently.
Although I also don’t think their batting is quite as good as the 2001 side, I don’t think the gulf is nearly as big as you think it is. Azhar and Rizwan average the same as Yousuf and Younis were at that point, and Shafique looks like a talent and a half. Their batting should be absolutely fine if not more than fine; their current problem is the lack of depth in their seam bowling and their lack of decent specialist spinners.
Yes, Pakistan aren’t doing themselves any favours with these pitches.
I have witnessed the test match during the weekend and had chitchat with few English fans about cricket in general in England. I think Test cricket is more of mind games and stokes played this one intelligently….England Celebrated the test cricket and we are loving it as hosts.
Thanks Hamza. Glad you’re enjoying the series. England supporters are delighted that we’re playing cricket in Pakistan again.
James, in August: “I can no longer support any ECB related team or event.”
It’s amazing how winning a few games has completely changed your outlook!
Quick shout out for Ben Duckett. A more natural fit for bazball than Alex Lees. Tougher tests await in swinging conditions but he looked good.
Yes he did. I was surprised by Duckett’s call up but, once again, it makes some practical sense. Crawley is tall, right handed, and lives to drive. Duckett is short, left handed, and likes playing off the back foot. This makes them a more difficult combo to bowl at. Mucks up the bowlers’ lengths etc.
No axe to grind but do we think he will be opening in the Ashes?
Personally I have a suspicion that, assuming Bairstow is fit, that they may promote Brook to open (it is where he started his career) – so Crawley, Brook, Pope, Root, Bairstow, Stokes, Foakes could be the batting order.
Opening in the Ashes is no fun if you are not a specialist and Brook is a beast at number 5. They have tried to be unorthodox before- getting Root to open and later Jason Roy and the Aussies had both on toast. Cummins et al with the new ball are hard enough to play at the best of times.
Bairstow or Brook? Interesting conundrum. And I would pick Foakes, no way I would get Bluey to keep again.
“Getting Root to open” wasn’t funky at all. Root was an opener at that point.
I enjoyed your article James and many of the comments from other correspondents. As an England supporter, the last 8 test matches have been some of the most enjoyable I have witnessed. In the euphoria of the moment, it is in our human nature to feel like this is the “best win ever.” It certainly feels like it as Jimmy Anderson himself said in a post-match interview. For me, Headingly 2019 remains the pinnacle for pure adrenalin filled excitement (I still think we’re going to lose watching replays of that last wicket partnership). I’m sure others have their favourite moments, the 2005 Ashes obviously springs to mind as well as winning in India in 2012. The physical and mental toll on the players in Rawalpindi though was huge and producing a result on such a surface was phenomenal so can fully understand how the squad were feeling in the immediate aftermath of such a win. I think all true England supports would have accepted defeat in this test match had it occurred, nobody likes to lose but some defeats hurt more than others. If we fast forward to next Summer, then imagine how difficult it would be to watch Marnus Labuschagne or Steve Smith knocking off the winning runs in a similar declaration type scenario. I don’t expect for one second, that the England camp will alter their approach in Pakistan, in New Zealand in February or in the next Ashes. I hope they don’t, it is incredible to watch and is show casing test match cricket in a manner that has not been done before. However, hand on heart, I’d take a boring, ground out draw in the 5th test match at the Oval if it meant winning the Ashes! I wonder if Ben and Baz feel the same?
Will the players get MBEs?
Just to check: is this still a blog for cricket-related discussion, or have we gone back to where we were a year ago and converted it into a forum for one troll to repeat the same things over and over and over and over and over again?
Asking both for myself and a friend…:-) It would be good to kinow if there’s still any point visiting this site.
Not sure if he’s supporting England this week or not.
They won, so he’s probably back on the bandwagon.
And what do you know England still can’t play spin for toffee.