Bazball: A template which has given England 90 pc success rate in their last 10 Tests. England won three-Test series by 3-0 and became the first side in history to whitewash Pakistan in their own backyard.
The one thing that has taken the cricketing world by storm over the past few months is the Bazball approach of England Test team. The term “Bazball” has been coined by experts with reference to the strategy devised by England’s red-ball coach and former New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum in partnership with England’s recently appointed captain Ben Stokes.
Their method of playing the longest format is exactly opposite to how traditional Test cricket is played and what the coaching manuals say. And what has this template offered England? To put it straight, in the 10 Tests that Stokes and McCullum have paired up as captain-coach, the team has won 9 of those games.
The beginnings of Bazball
England’s indifferent performance in the longest format of the game in the last few years under Joe Root prompted the team management to bring a shift in the leadership group of the team. This meant all-rounder Ben Stokes was made the skipper and McCullum the coach for the said format. The pair began their journey, quite ironically, in England’s home series against New Zealand.
After winning the first Test at Lord’s by 5 wickets following the conventional Test template, England began applying the Bazball method in winning the next 2 Tests of the series played in Nottingham and Leeds, respectively. Chasing 299 and 296, they hunted down the total in 50 and 54.2 overs respectively, scoring at around 6 runs per over in the final innings of the respective Tests. This is something which was unheard of till then, and it was Jonny Bairstow in particular who was the change agent, first with his 136 from 92 balls at Trent Bridge in the second Test and then a 44-ball 71* at Headingley in the final Test, both of which ensured England won the games easily in quick time.
This was followed by an incredible chase by England against India in the 5th rescheduled Test of Pataudi Trophy 2021, where they conquered the impossible target of 378 in under 77 overs with so much ease. Bairstow once again was in the mix of things making 114*(145) in the fourth innings.
England also beat South Africa in a three-Test series in their last home series of 2022 by a margin of 2-1. Here too, they won the Oval Test by 9 wickets after chasing down a target of 130 run in under 23 overs with opener Zak Crawley blazing away in ODI fashion with a 57-ball 69* against a more than capable bowling attack including the likes of Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje amongst others.
England’s record performance in Pakistan
Questions were raised when England embarked on a tour to Pakistan as to whether they could take their Bazball approach in the subcontinent conditions where conditions largely favour spinners. And as if to quell rising voices of dissent, only in the first Test, England proved their method of play is not just limited to their home conditions.
On the very first day of the opening Test, England scored a staggering 506 runs, which is the most on the opening day of a Test match, and they did it in 75 overs; if only they had got the full 90 overs one could imagine how many more records would have tumbled on the first day of December 2022. They ended up notching up 657 runs in only 101 overs, and in almost all of their 6 batting instances in that recently concluded series, England scored over 4 runs per over even on turning tracks.
England eventually won the series 3-0 and became the first side in history to whitewash Pakistan in their own backyard.
Baz behind the ball and the fire that Stokes has stoked into this philosophy
Brendon McCullum himself was a revolutionist in his own right when it comes to his methodical madness in playing this wonderful game. He was seen as an architect in building New Zealand cricket in the way one sees it now with his inspirational captaincy and it is the same fearless attitude that Baz has bestowed upon England’s Test skipper Stokes and his team.
Credit must also be given to Ben Stokes for the way he led the team thus far, and especially on the Pakistan tour. Talking to the broadcaster just after the series against Pakistan, McCullum showered praise on Stokes for the way he has managed his troops both on and off the field.
According to McCullum, Ben Stokes is a maverick and genius on the field but his man-management skills, getting the best out of players is what had made a difference to this Test side. He cited that the turning point of the series has to be the 506 that England scored on the first day of international cricket on their Pakistan tour, and it was all possible due to the crystal-clear messaging that Stokes communicated to his teammates.
Baz added that Stokes completely took the fear of failure away from the minds of his teammates and this fearless batting approach has allowed England bowlers to take 60 wickets on this memorable away tour. Another key trait identified by McCullum in Stokes is the latter’s ability as a skipper of not allowing the game to drift away at any point.
Test Cricket offered fresh lease of life
This current England team has given Test cricket a fresh lease of life, and it will be interesting to see if they can continue the same on the lush green wickets of New Zealand where they tour next in February 2023, or in the upcoming Ashes to be held at home in 2023. The tough away tours of India or traditional turning tracks of Bangladesh may well be quite another challenge to this strategy and it is upto McCullum and Stokes to see what could be best done on those assignments.
Also, it will be even more interesting to witness whether the other strong Test teams like India, Australia take a similar approach going forward in red-ball cricket.