I had this article written in my head as the Test Match progressed. “Bazball faces its first setback” was the working title. I was going to talk about how this new England still needed improvement to compete against the truly great Test teams as India moved seemingly unstoppably towards victory in this oddly rearranged match.
However, this England team continue to defy the expectations of those of us who are waiting for the bubble to burst. This isn’t supposed to be how you play Test cricket. For 130 years we have been told this approach does not work. All the received wisdoms of how to play the game are being thrown out the window. WG Grace’s famous saying “9 times out of 10 when I win the toss I bat first, the 10th time I think about it and then bat first” was the first one to go. Upon calling correctly at Edgbaston Ben Stokes announced “We like chasing” before inserting India on a relatively flat pitch. That is how you approach one- day cricket, it isn’t how you win Test matches against high quality opposition. But chase England did, and what a chase it was! 378, the highest 4th innings chase at Edgbaston and the highest in English Test history.
Even Geoffrey Boycott penned a column entitled “I don’t like how England are playing Test cricket at the moment, I love it!” This is the same Geoffrey Boycott who, upon watching England rack up 408 all out on the first day of the great Edgbaston Test of 2005, walked up to Michael Vaughan in the car park and told him “You won’t win many Test matches playing like that!” The thing is England are winning Test matches and they are winning them by playing even more attacking cricket than even the boys of 2005 or, arguably, any side that has ever played the game. Steve Waugh’s declared aim was for Australia to score at 4 an over in Test cricket, a revolutionary idea at the time. Stokes and McCullum’s England are regularly scoring at 5 an over.
This week was the litmus Test, however. Those of us who have watched the game for long enough to witness it’s soaring heights and crushing lows were all saying the same thing. Yes, this new free scoring approach was all well and good against New Zealand but they are a team, albeit a good one, seemingly on the decline. They were also missing a bowler at Trent Bridge and selected the wrong side at Headingley. It wouldn’t be successful against India, not against bowlers who learnt their trade in the IPL and all the tricks up their sleeve to combat this sort of batting. It wouldn’t work against Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami and besides, anything England could do Rishabh Pant could do better, which he almost did.
Yet again, though, this new England confounded expectations. It seems there is no position from which they don’t believe they can win. 132 behind on first innings, they seemed completely out of the game once India reached stumps on day 3 with a lead of 257 and 7 wickets still in hand. Indeed, almost every England team of the past would have been.
This is all before we get on to the performances of two of Yorkshire’s finest, Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow. Root’s brilliance has become almost routine, just like another Lionel Messi hat trick, we regard it as almost to be expected, so much so as to fail to appreciate it’s genius. Bairstow’s revival on the other hand is something extraordinary. In terms of a cricketing transformation only Mitchell Johnson morphing from a scattergun bowler who fully earned the Barmy Army’s enduring ditty about him into the fearsome heir to Lilley and Thomson in 2013/14 comes close to what the Yorkshireman has achieved in recent months. To put his performances into context Bairstow had achieved only 5 hundreds in his first 78 Tests. He now has 4 in his last 5 innings.
Of course, it is worth pointing out that his purple patch showed signs of beginning before the McCullum/ Stokes axis took charge. His superb hundred in Sydney during the winter’s Ashes series was followed by another on the more benign pitches of the Caribbean in March. Even then, though, we did not witness the almost infallible batting that we have seen in recent weeks. Almost every time the Yorkshireman strides to the crease at the moment, a century seems almost inevitable.
The turnaround is staggering. Perhaps he just needed someone to believe in him. For that is the greatest thing that Stokes and McCullum have brought to English cricket and that is the removal of the fear of failure. English cricket has been paralysed by that for far too long. Too many players just needed to remember why they play this wonderful game.
It is a joy watching England play cricket at the moment and those are not words any of us have written for a long time. The country is in a recession, the 24 hour news tickers on our TV’s display relentlessly depressing updates and the national football team is demonstrating all the verve and flair of a wet Tuesday afternoon at the DMV. But for a few long glorious summer days we have been able to forget all our troubles and watch a group of cricketers play international sport the way it was meant to be played, with the joy and enthusiasm of young men who can’t believe their luck that they get to do this for a living.
When Ben Stokes first led England on to the field this summer, he said that he wanted the players to “enjoy playing for England.” They clearly are Ben. In fact, we all are.
Nicely written, Billy. That Boycott column also featured the sentence “But this is not the time to be negative.” Of all Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes’ achievements, getting Sir Geoffrey to rule out negativity might be the most amazing of the lot!
I agree with every word. It also cheered me that Ben picks the best wicket keeper in the world and has faith in a spinner who can take 10 wickets in a match
The big test? The Litmus test? Against the truly great test teams?
Oh for heaven’s sake, get a grip. This was a higher hurdle than NZ – but let’s not lose our marbles. This was a one-off Test against a team again minus some crucial players and who’d already won the series. They are also not a “great” team away from home unless the current inflation has also devalued the currency of “greatness”. India lost their last series in SA (who are not a strong team) and lost abjectly in NZ. They won in Australia but that was against an Australia who’d taken a shotgun to their lower leg.
England have climbed out of the pit into which the Silverwood era had plunged them. Like most teams except the virtually bankrupted, they can win at home. What should be normal becomes a lap of honour. Come back to me when England can win in places like NZ, WI and Pakistan and put up a seriously good contest in India and Australia. This would constitute serious progress over norms of the last decade.
What did this win show? That Root is a seriously good, borderline great player in great form. We knew this. That Bairstow is in great form. We knew this. How good Bairstow is once he’s not messed about remains to be seen. I always thought he was a 40+ Test average player. That Anderson and Broad can still take wickets at home. Handy to have this confirmed – but for how long? England had to effectively give away the series in WI to have them ready to do this at home.
In relation to some of your comparisons:
–India had not already won the series. In fact, they never did. This defeat was the difference between drawing it and winning it.
–in what way had Australia taken a shotgun to their lower leg in 2020-21? Other than an injury to Warner which kept him out of two tests, theywere at full strength for every game–while India lost more players than on almost any tour I can remember, were bowled out for less than 40 to lose the first test and had to tour in excuciatingly restrictive conditions.. I’d say the opposite–it was one of the great modern victories.
Re this game, I agree that it’s not clear yet how exportable Bazball will be–but it’s also worth noting that they’ve already done something in the last month while chasing that no other test team in 145 years has done. It’s also noteworthy that at every stage there have been people saying that the next attempt to do this wouldn’t work. After the first time, it wasn’t going to work again because the pitch was too good the first time. The second time, it wouldn’t again because that was going against the grain too much and it was unsustainable. The third time, it wouldn’t work against India. This time, it won’t work abroad.
Well, it might not…but it also might. Root is the best batter in the world at the moment, and he’s a very good player of spin. Either Bairstow or Stokes can take any attack apart on their day. The rest are growing in confidence and the bowling is getting better (although I agree that if they want to get serious about winning abroad then they’ll have to drop Broad). And some of the tactics–notably coming down the pitch to bowling fast or slow–seems specifically designed to take the pitch out of the equation, and the scoring rate largely takes the second new ball out of the equation unless you’re setting a world record target.
What we’ve learned more than what you set out is that this team have lost their timidity, and that that goes a long way. Sure, it’s easy to sit in our armchairs and be casually cynical about it–but if we really hadn’t learned anything we would have expected a largely similar line-up to have pasted Australia last winter or NZ and India last summer. They, erm, didn’t.
England have justified their approach. They have done so not only against a fading NZ attack, but against the rampant Indian bowlers, on the fourth evening looking like a busted flush. South Africa, bring it on.
To digress for a moment, I have a new word on my proscribed list, to go with Boris and awesome. (To be fair, I did once remark that the sunrise over the Grand Canyon was awesome). The horrible word (and this is the last time it will ever be typed on this machine) is Bazball.
I think BB is supposed to mean ‘always go for the attacking option’. It was the Bayliss/Morgan blueprint which transformed the white ball team. Obviously, as we discovered in the Bayliss era, this can go spectacularly wrong in the test arena, and indeed frequently did so, perhaps, and I am sorry to labour this, because of timid captaincy. Enter Silverwood, with a far more pragmatic approach, and that didn’t go too well either. How many successive defeats? Do you remember the Oval chase last year where Burns and Hameed gave England a wonderful start before Mr Bumrah sent it all pear-shaped?
So, back to the attacking option under McCullum and Stokes, and what has the difference been? It has been confidence. I was as guilty as everyone else of calling for Crawley’s head before this test, but he was told, keep going for it, your place is safe, and in this game he started to reward the management. The batting of Lees this summer has also blossomed delightfully. So Bairstow and Root come together, not in a crisis, but with an run rate already achieved that allowed them to proceed without taking undue risks, just relying on their quality and each playing a proper test match innings (which doesn’t have to mean slow). They batted themselves into a position where four or five singles in an over was all they needed, and this was achieved easily with the fields set back because of what they have done before. Their running and strike rotation has been as impressive as the wonderful strokes they have unfurled.
More please. I can take the odd disaster if we are to be entertained this much.
If Crawley develops into a Test cricketer, BM deserves all the credit he will get. I posted here that, although I have always rated Crawley highly, after that lackadaisical c & b against NZ I thought he had played his last Test. BM thought otherwise and I hope he is proved right, because Crawley has looked to be a class act – as Vince did.
I don’t blame you at all for describing sunrise over the Grand Canyon as awesome. It is–it inspires awe. But your mate’s new tattoo doesn’t, especially if they’ve got seven new ones this year…unless you have a sadly diminished idea of awe…:-)
Call me a cynic–or having a sadly diminished idea of glorious cover driving!–, but if Brendon M can turn Zak Crawley into a reliable test batter, then he’s maybe a magician!
Thé man himself agrees with you (and me !)
BRENDON MCCULLUM, ENGLAND’S Test coach, has said that he has no idea what ‘Bazball’ means and suggested that the phrase has missed the nuances of his side’s new approach.
I would argue that especially in the 2nd innings against India ‘Bazball’ moved onto a more mature level with very little of the 20-20 style batting we saw against New Zealand, which led to some Kamikaze moments. Root ended up dominating that 3rd wkt partnership with Bairstow, who played much straighter and if not exactly in defensive mode more respectful to the conditions and the bowling and not until the game was almost won did we see ramp shots and other liberties taken. Hopefully Stokes will take note. Even Crawley showed more restraint in leaving many good length balls outside his off stump and looking to play straighter, which shows it’s not all about mentality, ‘Bazball’ is showing some technical intelligence too. It has to be said however that India played into their hands by bowling too straight, allowing a lot if runs to be worked to leg. The big question for them is why leave out Ashwin, their best bowler. I love Jadega as an all round cricketer but his bowling is functional, he’s not a front line spinner.
I hold my hand up to the new regime though, I was afraid it would descend into pure white ball but it looks to be developing with respect to many of the more refined skill sets needed in test cricket.
I rather agree about Ashwin–picking Jadeja is a bit Silerwood-ers England, picking a bowler because of how well he can bat–but he’s a very good defensive spinner who can usually bottle up an end at the least and wheel through his overs sop fast it can discombobulate the opposition.
But it seems to me that the weak link in India’s bowling outside Asia is Thakur not Jadeja. But that may well be covered soon: if Pandya gets his test match fitness levels back, then opposition teams should start getting worried if he plays like he has this year. He’s the direct answer to Stokes in India’s team–which may extend to being the next captain and bringing the B-word (hello John B!) to India.
Next years Ashes is the big test. The Aussies are already devising a plan to combat Bazball. It will be intriguing and exciting.
What an amazing transformation – they say you can only beat what is in front of you, well it was only the two top sides in the Test Table.
Records broken, cricket and red ball cricket suddenly hot again, so many young people with smiles on faces. A real joy to watch, excitement abounds for the next Test, of course sometimes this will go wrong but it already feels it will be right more than wrong as we are talking of a new philosophy not just one or two guys in decent nick.
Also will probably transform test cricket which whether we like it or not the truth is that in most countries its now barely played, too much money lost, this may just help!
Always be naysayers, usually same people no matter what, ignore them and just smile and enjoy.
Whilst I agree that the so called ‘Bazball’ is exciting to watch, it is surely too early to say that it is way forward. Clearly, we need to see how England bat on a bunsen burner in India or a seaming pitch in N ew Zealand. However, the transformation of Johnny Bairstow is amazing. Joe Root has always been a class act who now regularly converts 50s into 100s.
I am mystified why India won’t play Ravi Ashwin in England, he is almost as good as Jadeja at batting and a far better spinner.
One final gripe, it is Lillee as in Dennis NOT Lilley as in Peter.
Given your final line, you might want to check some of the spelling in your post David….:-) Or did you mean Jo Root?!
I wonder if James is still refusing to the “support the brand”.
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