Bazball, Benball, or is it just see the ball, hit the ball?
England vs New Zealand: England continue to dominant New Zealand and lead two-match series by 1-0 using Bazball philosophy. England have won 10 out of 11 Test matches played since Ben Stokes-Brandon McCullum era began.
The man who holds the record for fastest Test century, Brendon McCullum, collaborated with the man with the highest number of sixes in Test cricket, Ben Stokes, and the cricketing world was ready to witness something that has not been seen in Tests for years. See the ball, then hit it. A simple formula, which Brendon and Ben have been following, takes the pitch or the situation out of the equation.
Decoding the aggressive brand of Test cricket
Aggressive brand of cricket which translates to go hard or go home with depth in the batting lineup - a mentality led by Eoin Morgan as England’s white-ball captain and later carried over to the red-ball team after Stokes replaced Joe Root as the captain. Since May 2022, England have played 21 innings of Test cricket, scoring 5982 runs at a rate of 4.59 runs per over, which is by far the best among all the Test playing nations. This is certainly a marked improvement on a run rate of 2.99 between January 2022 and April 2022.
The second-best scoring rate was 3.64 runs per innings by Australia in the said timeline. Seeing this aggressive brand of cricket, the question that the cricketing pundits of the 1980s might arrive at would be: ‘Oh yes, so what if they are playing at a strike rate of above 4.5? They might be losing a lot of wickets in the process’. However, that is not the case with England's Generation Z team. In fact, while in beast mode and tormenting the opposition bowlers, they have the third fewest dismissals per innings (7.8), trailing only Australia (7.2) and the West Indies (7.7).
To say the least, England have been an entertaining team, dominating the Test arena with 74 sixes in 21 innings, 33 more than the next-best team. Talking about boundaries, England are in front with a mammoth 752 of them, with the next best being 494. Though England have played a total of 21 innings in the past 10 months; their performances have been eye-catching, creating new headlines in the sporting world throughout.
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Performances Home and Away: Diving Deep into the Baz-Ben Era of English Test Cricket
Since the Baz-Ben era began, the daring and entertaining England team has played 11 Test matches. The intent was clear from the outset: win the match or die trying to win it. There is no in-between. Just nothing at all. No draws, no fear of getting rolled over and no doubts whatsoever with respect to playing a reverse scoop off a fast bowler—just pure positive intent. That has led to this fearless team winning 10 out of their 11 Test matches with a win rate of 90.9 per cent. It's insane, isn’t it?
Yes, England’s players have been absolutely insane in this new era, with a win rate of 100 pc away from home to top their overall win rate. Winning all four of their away games, three on the dead pitches of Pakistan, where England’s aggressive approach got everyone glued to their television sets, while otherwise the whole world would switch their television sets off instead of watching senseless draws on the flat pitches of Pakistan. England won an historic series by a margin of 3-0 in Pakistan by scoring runs at a rate of knots, losing wickets but maintaining an aggressive approach and a never-say-die attitude. England not only made history by winning a Test series in Pakistan after 21 years, but it was also the first time since 1961 that a Test series between England and Pakistan did not result in a single drawn Test match. Even in the recently concluded first Test match against New Zealand in Mount Maunganui, England dominated the Kiwis with this new approach, outperforming them in just under four days.
Read More: Bazball: A template which has given England 90 pc success rate in their last 10 Tests
Does the approach change in the 2nd and 4th innings?
England have an overwhelming scoring rate of 5.12 runs per over when batting in the first and third innings, with the second-best rate being 3.6 runs per over, a drop of 152 basis points. Though this was always on the cards, there was comparatively less pressure on teams batting first or in the third innings, with the pitch not deteriorating to the same extent when batting fourth. In fact, England’s second and fourth innings run rate dropped marginally by 82 basis points, but they still remain at the top of the chart with respect to the scoring rate, with an average of 4.30 runs per over, 37 basis points over the second-best team, Australia.
Test cricket is about progressing session by session, not innings by innings. England players have decoded how to dominate every session possible where their batters bat out of their skin, peeling the skin of the opposition bowlers, taking the pitch completely out of the equation.
Read More: Is ‘Bazball’ New or Old? How can it reshape Test cricket?
Has England’s batting been tested yet? Will they swim out when it floods?
While it’s fun till it lasts, the question of the hour becomes: is the Baz-Ben approach required in the second or the third innings? Will the approach continue to be the same if the pitch favours the bowling side? To delve deeper, consider the countries in which England have played matches in the last ten months.
Stokes’ England have played so far in England, New Zealand and Pakistan. While it is easier to take an attacking approach on Pakistan's flat decks and England's relatively batting-friendly home conditions after Day 3, surviving beyond three days on pitches in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh is as difficult as it gets.
Crunching the data of the countries where England have played so far since May 2022, namely England, New Zealand and Pakistan, one gets that in the 26 innings played in England, teams scored more than 300 runs 34.6 pc of the times. A mammoth 45 pc times, teams have scored 300+ runs on the flat decks of Pakistan and an astounding 50 pc times, teams have scored 300+ on New Zealand pitches. When comparing the relatively flat tracks to matches played in India and Sri Lanka in the same duration, teams have a low 300+ scoring percentage of 36.4 and 33.3 pc, respectively.
The new and improved England team led by Stokes and McCullum has yet to play in countries such as India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, where the ball spins like a frisbee and bounces as low as a Lamborghini, and the hot and humid conditions drain the players more than anything else. This is where the real test of the best of England players will happen. Though it is still early days for English cricket's fearless brand of cricket, or as the English media refers to it, the ‘BazBall’ approach, which apparently, according to Ben Stokes, Brendon absolutely despises.
Only time will tell how long this fearless approach will last, and whether they will revert to defensive cricket when the ball does the talking on unfamiliar pitches.
The second Test between England and New Zealand begins on February 24 in Wellington.
It will be interesting to see whether England continue to follow the Bazball approach in the home Ashes series against Australia which begins with the first Test at Edgbaston in Birmingham on June 16.
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