Cricket is many things, yet perhaps most of all it is an act of anxiety.
Much of the sport’s anxiety comes from the tension between the team and the individual. Fail in tennis, golf or some other individual sport and there is no team to pick you up, no cover for your unforced error. The failure is isolating, crushing. Fail in a team sport, say football or rugby, and you have let down not only yourself but others. Your misplaced pass could be the difference between victory and another rotten defeat, a feeling exacerbated by the sideways glances of teammates.
Fail in cricket and you achieve both. It is a largely individual contest, one in which your errors are alone and distinct, yet their impact can bring down a team. Failure is crushing and routine. Batters spend most games disappointed, arguably most bowlers do too.
Worse, failure is often deeply embarrassing. Always, it leads to rumination.
A stupid shot – a decision made under duress over the course of milliseconds – can look selfish, even uneducated, something then dwelled upon not only the field but until, and then even into, the next innings.
A poor bowling performance is a different proposition, a prolonged agony of either being made to flounder over the course of a failing spell or a day spent kicking grass at fine leg, your sole purpose in the team taken away while others shoulder your burden.
This anxiety feels particularly bound to the English game. We are a society that expects failure but, unless it comes in some sort of glorious down-in-flames, Charge of the Light Brigade variety, condemns and judges it too. Other countries – and this may be a gross misconception – seem to either bluff through the anxiety and the failure, or maybe just play with more joy and chutzpah.
English cricket is a naturally defensive act, a timid attempt to get through one miserable game and into another. It’s as if each of us has the words of Geoffrey Boycott in our ears, ruefully reminding us that we can’t score runs from t’pavilion or mocking that his grandma could face our little seamers with her knocked-in stick of rhubarb.
In a world that has become so anxiety-inducing, it is fair to ask if it’s worth it. Why, really, are we concerned about sending the ball down leg when the planet’s on fire? What’s a poor shot compared to missiles landing in Kremenchuk, Kyiv, Cherkasy?
Old England felt like an expression of our anxious age. Forced into a gilded bubble for nearly two years, the side that was once promising (remember South Africa 2019-20) became a sad, sad affair. It was masked, santised cricket. Cricket that attempted to play it safe but played it wrong. Gifted cricketers fell to pieces, less gifted ones shriveled back to the shires. Joe Root found messianic, but very sad, success as his captaincy drifted into the abyss. It all ended in that very traditional expression of English anxiety, an appalling and constantly worsening tour of Australia.
So it’s a relief to watch New England, to soak in a deluge of BazBall. As the world’s headlines tie new knots deeper and tighter into our stomachs, as the future’s clouds grow darker, there is something simple and refreshing in watching eleven gifted cricketers play without fear of failure. Eleven men who seemed to have rid themselves of that old Boycottian doubt.
To see Jack Leach, perhaps the most obviously self-doubting of all England’s cricketers, be backed and return that backing is special. To accept that maybe, against all received and tutting wisdom, Ollie Pope can do a job at three is invigorating. To watch Jonny Bairstow dismiss yet another chase…
It is worthwhile and it is perhaps important. It is hopeful. If England can chase from any position, if a whole team can rid itself so quickly of this inherited doom, then what else is possible? Maybe the odd Test match, even series, will fall into a heap. That is a worthwhile cost. It is a small trade off for some reduction in our world’s ever increasing anxiety, a worthwhile price for light in bleak times.
One can’t help wondering and to a degree, fearing that India could make a mockery of BazzBall and we find ourselves losing by an innings withing 3 days and back to the drawing board.
Let’s hope not!
I very much agree with the enjoy it while you can approach – I certainly enjoyed the NZ series – and love BM’s positive approach, but even as an optimist I find myself thinking
1 What if Root had failed in the second innings at Lord’s?
2 What would have happened if NZ had been at full strength and well prepared, and what will happen when we meet sides which are ?
Until then, I’ll enjoy the moment !
It’s good to see England players expressing themselves and going for their shots. But I doubt it will be sustainable against the very best attacks or indeed on pitches that offer movement. The series against NZ was played on some pretty flat wickets that were suited to positive batting. BazBall could come unstuck pretty quickly against the likes of Australia on wickets that assist the bowlers.
Test cricket has always required periods of play when survival is the name of the game. This isn’t going to change. I’m very much enjoying this McCullum era so far, but let’s not kid ourselves that the approach is anything other than the one that Bayliss tried to implement with Jason Roy opening. And now we hear utterly absurd suggestions that Jos Buttler should open! I really hope we have a different ending this time but we all know how the Bayliss approach flopped after some promising signs early on. The best sides are multidimensional and play the situation. We’re not sure if England can do that yet.
I think this is a fair criticism and I agree a) it won’t always work, we will get skittled and b) Jos Buttler is not the best idea for our next opener – but…
Against good attacks/spicy pitches I think there’s a strong argument that our best chance is to try and disrupt lengths and bowlers’ rhythms. Over the past few years too many players have got out trying to play defensively and letting bowlers bowl at them when they just don’t have the technique (and no replacements have, either). India away, for instance, we would have been better served trying to smack some sort of total than fiddle about.
Also I wonder if we’ll produce slightly flatter pitches at home now. This is what we’ve done in ODI cricket and could make sense if this new template sticks.
It may very well not work–but then, nor has anything else. England have had a fairly good home record, helped quite substantially by pitches which were different to those for most tests worldwide. But abroad, they’ve been awful for decades. They’ve won one series in Australia in 35 years, one in India in almost 40, one away to Pakistan in 60, one in West Indies in 55, and one in NZ this century. They failed to win their last series in Bangladesh, and they failed to win the only series they’ve played in Zimbabwe. The only places they have a decent away record in is Sri Lanka and South Africa.
So to my pereception it’s probably at least worth a go seeing whether Bazball can be exported or not. After all, that kind of record can’t be explained away by problems in the ECB, structural issues, white-ball cricket, the Hundred, playing around with the fixture list or England’s failure to produce decent top order batters–it predates all of those, sometimes by several decades. Sure, they might look like prize chumps who can’t do test match batting or bowling to save their lives….but then how much better did some of the other tour parties to have left England in the last half century or so, and especially in the last decade, look?!
All of England’s shortcomings can be ascribed to the ECB.
Just play the ODI side
I know it sounds simple but suspending ambition and just concentrating on improving your abilities seems the best bet. Too many young sportsmen and women achieve success too quickly. From there there’s only one place to go and that’s backwards as frailties are exposed at the top level. You can’t be a world beater at 21. Cricket requires lots of technicalities and these have to be practiced and honed competitively. It takes time. Most sportsmen don’t reach their peak until their late 20’s, some even early 30’s. Pace yourself for that. By then you’re comfortable in your own skin as a person as well as a player and can cope better with the vicissitudes of life. So much of sporting success is in your head, not a serene place when you’re young.
It’s been fun watching England under Stokes. It’s a pity that David Gower isn’t playing today. He would have revelled in the new mindset.
“when the planet’s on fire”
Yes – this English summer heatwave is just burning us all up!
“missiles landing in Kremenchuk, Kyiv, Cherkasy”
Missile have been landing on Yemen for years – did anyone think they had to change their worldview or fly the flag of Yemen as a result? Nothing to do with the missiles being fired by an ally of NATO’s of course – but these were probably carbon-neutral, trans-friendly missiles!
Yes, I know this isn’t a politics’ thread – but if comments are made ATL then they can be made BTL.
This current “test match” is supremely pointless except for generating revenue from Indian TV. I’ll be giving it a miss.
Your first example is a classic case of doing what your second example criticises–being a rich white global northerner uncomcerned about problems that don’t have an obvious manifestation in the global north amd/or which are caused mainly by the global north.
“I don’t feel overheated so I’m going to pretend that there are no wildfires or other signs of climate change in poor people’s countries either”.
Of course, you’ve totally missed the point being made ATL anyway by not seeing the wood for the trees.
Bazeball is alright as far as it goes. But put it into perspective, NZ were decidedly undercooked bar two batsmen who made most of the runs. They have ageing players and probably are a side in transition. That’s not to say they are not very good, they are, but when you add some horrible flat tracks into the mix well Bairstow was good, but….
As I write England are 44/3 against Bumrah and Co. Mmm..same old? Well maybe not, but 3 Tests against NZ don’t turn a poor side into World beaters over night.
And blimey folks don’t we need a fit fast bowler and attacking spinner.
One last observation: top orders, England, ND and now India are getting knocked over for under a 100, then there are miraculous recoveries. England go from 55/6 to 265/6? Too good to be true. The balls this year are bad, they go soft quickly and loose their bounce. In domestic and test cricket players constantly want the ball changed.
I wonder if James is still refusing to “support the brand”.