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Is ‘Bazball’ New or Old? How can it reshape Test cricket?

Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes era of England Cricket is off to a perfect start winning four of four Tests so far. Is Bazball philosophy really reshaping the Test cricket in England?

WTC 2021-23, Eng vs Ind 5th Test_ Ben Stokes, Brendon McCullum having a chat during practice session (©Getty Images)
Stokes, McCullum having a chat during practice session (©Getty Images)

“There are no complains; sometimes, teams will get the better of us but no one will be braver than us,” England captain Ben Stokes quoted the inspiring words of teammate Jack Leach after their victory against India to square Pataudi Trophy 2021 at 2-2.

It was fitting that Joe Root reverse swept Ravindra Jadeja for a single to administrate a full stop to the long-delayed series between England and India. Chasing 378, the hosts breezed home with seven wickets in the bank and more than two sessions to spare.

The Bazball approach for new England side

In a game like Test cricket, which is considered to be the pinnacle of all cricketing formats for over 150 years, the innovations and the wish of shifting the game plan is rare to say the least. There is hardly anything that hasn’t been discussed or attempted; yet there is something new and fresh.

The England team under head coach Brendon McCullum and captain Ben Stokes have begun this summer with a new philosophy that few teams had done before. More than going hard against the opponents, it’s about erasing the fear of failure from their minds.

Being fearless can be hard on the players, who at one certain stage may fail but that’s where the job of the coaching staff and the leader becomes vital.

Stokes-McCullum - Different Souls with same Attitude and Mindset

A little backdrop to the cricketing life of Brendon McCullum spells out how the former New Zealand captain used to spend time in the middle: attacking and putting pressure on the opponents, without thinking too much ahead.

Whether it was the ICC ODI World Cup 2015 final where he stepped out on the third ball only to be dismissed for a duck by a Mitchell Starc yorker or just a year later, recording the fastest century in Test cricket, in just 54 balls in his farewell Test match; the common factor has been the attacking approach and possessing a fearless mindset.

When Stokes was asked at the toss why he decided to bowl first on this Edgbaston track, he didn’t say that he fancied a few early wickets under the gloomy conditions but he was interested more in a run chase.

The confidence England displayed with a new game plan in the New Zealand series, where they blew away the World Test Champions with the bat, encouraged them in going for the mountain record chase of 378 against India.

“The environment has been a treat, especially after the wins over New Zealand in the last four weeks,” Root expressed at the post-match presentation. “There is clarity about chasing such totals which has helped to rise up the belief.”

WTC 2021-23, Eng vs Ind 5th Test_ Joe Root playing a reverse sweep during India vs England Test (©Getty Images)
Joe Root found playing a lot of reverse sweep and scoop in Tests recently (©Getty Images)

Is “Bazball” something new or have we seen it before?

A closer look at the past decades will explain that it’s just a new name that England fans have given to an old strategy. The perspective was always there. Going back in time, there was the King, Sir Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards, who with substance and style used to walk in the middle with pure swag, chewing gum to smash the ball all around the park.

The eras transformed and India found a certain Virender Sehwag who used to tell the bowler about the shot he wanted to play against them, before hitting that impossible four that he had promised himself on the very next delivery.

Going back 7-8 years, David Warner too scored a century in the first session of a Test match against a potent Pakistan attack. It may not feel so but the likes of Steve Smith, Joe Root to Virat Kohli, all try to play with a positive mindset and never leave a chance of scoring a boundary even on their first delivery.

And then Test cricket found the likes of Rishabh Pant and Niroshan Dickwella, displaying their own style of play. So, it’s just old wine in a new bottle that England have been showing over the past few days.

“We are trying to rewrite Test cricket” - Ben Stokes

The fans were really loud on that morning when England beat India, which indicated how they too have shaped themselves with that new mindset.

“There was a bit of me that almost wanted then to get to 450 to see what we’d do,” Stokes opined to Sky Sports at the end of the game.

“We are trying to rewrite how Test cricket is being played, in England specially.”

Stokes painted out how they are trying to inspire a new generation who want to play the game in a new manner. With four victories, England, who were at the bottom of the ICC World Test Championship (WTC) 2021-23 standings, have moved two places higher to seventh as a refreshed group reignites interest in the team.

WTC 2021-23, Eng vs NZ 2nd Test, Top Performances_ Jonny Bairstow's 136 off 92 balls in 2nd innings helps England beat New Zealand, England lead 2-0 _ Walking Wicket (©AFP_Getty Images)
Bairstow's 136 off 92 balls in 2nd innings helps Eng beat NZ (©AFP/Getty Images)

Will it be a Way Forward always for England?

Before this summer, England were having a haunting time under the leadership of Root; they somehow managed to draw the Sydney Test to lose Ashes 2021-22 by a margin of 0-4, before being handed a 0-1 series defeat in the Caribbean. The rankings and performances of the team saw many of the administrators losing their seats.

The partnership between two New Zealand born people, Stokes and McCullum, has revived the brand of Test cricket in England. But it will be interesting to see whether they stick with the same plan in the future as well.

There will be times and conditions when on a deteriorating pitch this approach may require a second look but certainly opponents like South Africa or Australia will take note of what’s happening and may wonder how to shift their gameplans when they tour England.

“If you come on a wicket that’s got some grass on it and Josh Hazlewood, (Pat) Cummins and (Mitchell) Starc are rolling in at you, is it going to be the same?” Steve Smith who is playing a Test series in Sri Lanka remarked on the “Bazball’ approach. “We’ll see what happens”.

“There will be a few question marks if they get bowled out cheaply in a first innings, or guys get caught hitting the ball straight up or playing loosely,” Rassie van der Dussen, who is due to arrive in England in late summer, expressed his thought on ‘Bazball’.

Whatever happens, England will keep on taking on the bowlers and stretch their attacking mindset when they take on South Africa for the three-match Test series starting on August 17 at the Lord’s Cricket Ground.

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