England and the Success of Their 'Bazball' Times

England’s victory over India in the fifth Test was their fourth straight successful chase in Tests.

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England and the Success of Their 'Bazball' Times

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A drawn game, one English victory, but two wins for India and Virat Kohli's Test team were in a great position at the end of the fourth Test against England last year when the series was progressing in full steam.

India’s players were pumped up, their captain completely in charge and leading from the front. The bowlers were in top form and England were meek in their approach. It seemed like India’s dream of winning a Test series in England finally after 2007 would be fulfilled.

But then as it often happens, India's superstar culture took charge. Their then head coach Ravi Shastri, with little regard for COVID or its protocols, attended a book launch. There was a spread of the virus within the Indian camp and the 'superstars' of the team put their foot down, and the fifth Test was cancelled/abandoned (you take your pick).


India's stars walked away ‘out of fear’ about COVID and rushed to UAE for the second leg of the Indian Premier League (IPL).

That superstar tantrum led to further disasters in the later months with India witnessing a number of captaincy changes and a few heartbreaking losses.

The English, meanwhile, continued their meek approach in Tests and famously were completely swept away by Australia in the Ashes. They were even beaten by an unfancied West Indies side.

Then, however, came the big change with Brendon McCullum, a former New Zealand captain, taking charge as England’s Test head coach. McCullum was a left field choice who was expected to be better suited for the white ball format.

But England was trying to do something radical.

They have two different head coaches now with Matthew Mott taking over in the limited-overs formats. More importantly though, McCullum’s choice as the Test chief has turned out to be completely revolutionary.

For a side which was the butt of all jokes last year in Test cricket, this year since McCullum took charge, the team's fortunes have had a complete turnaround. It was not just McCullum as coach, even the appointment of Ben Stokes as Test captain has helped matters. Two positive individuals giving freedom to their players have transformed the English side this summer.


Former Test captain Joe Root still continues to hold the batting together like a glue. His form in the last 18 months in Test cricket has been unreal as he has made more runs than anyone else in the Test format, even leaving behind the other members of the 'Fab Four'.

The whole of 2021, Root was the lone warrior with the bat for England. The others seemed out of place. But now Root has the company of Jonny Bairstow. Can you believe the same Bairstow was basically told that his Test career was over last year? He struggled in the first part of the series last year against India. But since the Ashes, life has been completely different for him.

In the last four Tests, he has had four hundreds. Bairstow is now matching Root with his appetite for scoring runs. Unlike Root who caresses the ball to all parts of the park, Bairstow bludgeons the attacks at will. The way Bairstow scored runs against New Zealand was a scary sight. New Zealand also had excuses that they sometimes did not have their best bowling attack on the park. Still Bairstow’s 'devil may care' approach helped matters. He showed there is a different way to play Test cricket.

Root might be consistent in his approach and sometimes workmanlike, but Bairstow was exciting to watch.

The English media lapped up Bairstow’s approach and credited it to McCullum, calling it the 'Bazball' effect! This is basically a pun on McCullum’s nickname Baz, with the word meaning that the batters are using the bat like a baseball almost. It was one of those things that the English cricket media come up with to talk up their players always.


But Bazball is nothing new. The West Indies under Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards batted with similar abandon.

Australia, when John Buchanan took over as their head coach in 1999-2000, adopted a similar approach. Matthew Hayden and others in the line-up were challenged by Buchanan to score at more than four runs an over. Even India’s Virender Sehwag batted at a breakneck speed in Test cricket. Sri Lanka’s Sanath Jayasuriya used a similar approach in Test format.

So, this 'Bazball' has been around for a while. For a while, when India batted in the first innings, Bazball was being implemented by Rishabh Pant too!

Basically, much like what India’s head coach Rahul Dravid mentioned, this kind of approach with the bat works when your players are in form. India sadly did not have any of their batters in form and it showed in their timid approach, especially in the second innings.

England ,on the other hand, were finally well served by their under-fire Test openers Alex Lees and Zak Crawley. India were expecting to roll over the English top-order like they did in 2021 in the first part of the series. But a lot has changed since then. Lees and Crawley shook India out of their complacency up front. They set the platform for the massive English chase with their aggressive approach. India’s bowlers did not know what hit them and their first-time captain Jasprit Bumrah was clueless.


Then, even after a brief collapse, it became easier for England’s famed middle-order to take charge. Unlike in the previous three Tests against New Zealand, Root and Bairstow had a fantastic platform. From there England just went on and on, as India muffed the chances that came their way. It was always going to be a tough task for India as two of their four seam bowlers were hardly in form. The fifth bowler in Jadeja was basically doing a holding job.

In the end it seemed like what Stokes predicted might well have come true. Even if India had set England a target of 450 plus they would have probably given it a go. This is the confidence that this English Test line-up has right now with their batting this year so far! There is a long way to go before we can pronounce if they can succeed with this approach on say a square turner in India or a pitch where the ball is darting around.


Thus far the pitches have been amenable to batting this summer for England resulting in a 4-0 scoreline.

It is not like England’s Test line-up is a finished article. Not by any stretch of imagination. England lacks an express paceman in the absence of the injured duo of Jofra Archer and Mark Wood. They also lack a match-winning spinner. The ageing pace duo of James Anderson and Stuart Broad will have to call it quits someday soon. So, they will also have issues to deal with very soon.

But for now they can revel in the wonderful summer they have had thus far in Test cricket. The bigger challenge will be when they play South Africa next month and then obviously the Ashes. By then hopefully Bazball may have met an antidote.

As for India, it is back to square one. The superstars can go back to throwing tantrums once again and when they have time can keep ruing about why they are unable to win a Test series in England since 2007.

PS: Just a hint for at least one petulant superstar: Score runs, talk less! if not Bazball, just stay long enough to set up a win with the bat.


(Chandresh Narayanan is a former cricket writer with The Times of India, The Indian Express, ex-Media Officer for ICC, and the Delhi Daredevils. He is also the author of World Cup Heroes, Cricket Editorial consultant, a professor and cricket TV commentator.)

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