Bazball heads to India: Can England still swing away, or will the spinners strike back?
“It’s not pretty, but it just might work.”
Under a gritty and mesmerising Captain and a steely, hard-nosed head coach, ‘Bazball’ has breathed new life into the heart of the sleeping giant that is England Cricket.
Despite its evident value in the new age of cricket, many question the longevity and effectiveness of the positive and hard-hitting approach – and whether England can maintain this power-hitting bravado when they travel to India next month.
This entertaining cricket phenomenon has transcended cricket fans around the globe, born after the 5th test against India at Edgbaston in 2022 when veteran Jonny Bairstow and former captain Joe Root dismantled a usually imperious Indian bowling quartet to chase a record 378 in the fourth innings in just 76.4 overs, rescuing a series draw in the process.
The positive intent approach was dubbed ‘Bazball’ during a post-match press conference, and the name has stuck in the cricketing universe ever since.
This was not only monumental for England, who had managed one win in their previous ten test matches prior to 2022, but caught the attention of cricketing nations around the world as international viewers turned on to witness a playing style usually reserved for ‘coloured’ cricket taking to the traditional red ball game.
As England registered a 2-1 home series victory against South Africa, cricketing fans saw their upcoming tour of Pakistan as a monumental mountain to climb. The subcontinent jigsaw puzzle of finger spinners and extreme heat makes many a travelling player and fan squirm with discomfort.
But Bazball reared its head against a Pakistan side who struggled to combat the ferocious intent of England’s batting lineup, who registered a 74 run victory in Rawalpindi, where over 1700 runs were scored across five days, including four England centuries registered at better than a run a ball.
After a cagey 26 run triumph in Multan, England wrapped up a series victory in style at Karachi, winning by 8 wickets and chasing down a usually ominous 170 on a day four wicket in just 28.1 overs. This positive, attacking style of cricket seemed to take the pressure off the England batting unit as they played with intent, flair and freedom, and took England to the first ever whitewash series victory over Pakistan in Pakistan.
This tour seemed to also solidify a ‘core’ of the England top order, which included out of favour Zak Crawley and newcomers Ben Duckett and Harry Brook. Combined with all-time greats Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and Joe Root, Ben Stokes surely had a team that would challenge even the best sides test cricket had to offer.
And offer, they did.
Australia. The World Test Champions. Four of the top 10 batsmen in world cricket. A ruthless fast bowling unit, including the best off-spinner this decade. Bazball. Nothing to lose.
Ashes Cricket. There’s just nothing like it.
The stage was set. Zak Crawley set the tone with a crunching cover drive off the first ball of the series, and from that point, an even match was contested fiercely with everything you would want out of a test match.
A heroic ninth wicket stand between Nathan Lyon and Pat Cummins was the difference at Edgbaston, and the controversial run-out of Jonny Bairstow at Lords saw Australia take a vital 2-0 series lead despite Ben Stokes almost carrying his side to victory with a devastating 155. England roared back with a 3 wicket victory at Headingley, but a rain-affected draw at Old Trafford meant that Australia retained the little urn yet again.
Despite many journalists and fans muddying the series draw with the ethics surrounding the Bairstow run out, some glaring questions surrounding Bazball remained.
Ben Stokes’ decision to declare on the first day of the first test match at 8-393, with Joe Root still occupying the crease on 118 was met with stark confusion by all watching, but Stokes maintained that this was part of the ‘Bazball’ approach of positive intent and “grabbing the right moment”.
However, Australia’s steady batting approach got them to within just seven runs of England’s first innings total, which proved critical in the outcome of the game. It remains to be believed that this England defeat would have been avoided had Root continued to bat on Day 1, widening the first innings gap between themselves and Australia.
There was also the defeat at Lords, where Australia’s short ball tactics were taken on by England, who collapsed from 2-188 to be all out for 325. Their continuous play at the short ball was criticised, as the plan based on the field setting was obvious.
As a result of this collapse, Australia took a vital 91-run lead into the second innings and ran out 43 run victors. Despite positive intent rescuing a 2-2 series draw (and arguably a 3-2 win had rain not intervened), the decisions that this inexperienced captain and England side made for the ‘entertainment’ of the game seemed to have cost them greatly.
So, ‘the spinners strike back’. Why, I hear you ask? Two words. Nathan Lyon.
A world-class off spinner, Nathan Lyon could only manage 3 bowling innings before a calf injury spelt the end of his Ashes campaign. However, he did take 9 wickets across these three innings, many stumped or LBW on modest English wickets typically suited to pace bowlers.
Although Bazball in many ways was a roaring success during the Ashes, the threat of Nathan Lyon did quash England’s batting attack numerous times until his early exit and swung the first two matches back in favour of the Australians. Spin seemed to cause England batsmen the most issues, as they typically rely on the pace of the ball to bludgeon it to all parts of the ground.
As spin seems to be a chink in the armour of Bazball, some considerable thinking needs to be done as they travel to India in February. Indian pitches are subject to huge turning deliveries from day one and combined with experienced off spinners such as Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja who average under 21 in India, this looms as a tough challenge against a side who have not lost a series at home since 2012.
As the Pataudi Trophy series looms, the less experienced English batsmen will have serious questions to answer against one of the greatest spin attacks we have seen in recent times, and Stokes, McCullum and Bazball will be under the cricketing spotlight once again. For better, or for worse.