England double down on ‘Bazball’ despite India Test humiliation

Published February 20, 2024
India’s Dhruv Jurel runs out England’s Ben Duckett (R) during the fourth day of the third Test cricket match between India and England at the Niranjan Shah Stadium in Rajkot on February 18, 2024. — AFP
India’s Dhruv Jurel runs out England’s Ben Duckett (R) during the fourth day of the third Test cricket match between India and England at the Niranjan Shah Stadium in Rajkot on February 18, 2024. — AFP

LONDON: England’s hyper-attacking “Bazball” approach is coming under intense scrutiny after a crushing Test defeat in India but captain Ben Stokes appears determined to stick to his guns.

The visitors slumped to a humiliating 434-run loss in the third match of the series in Rajkot — England’s biggest defeat in terms of runs since 1934.

But it was the manner of their capitulation, which meant they now trail 2-1 in the five-match series, that has led to calls for serious reflection on their swashbuckling approach.

England started the third day of the third Test in a good position — 207-2 in response to India’s first-innings score of 445 after opening batsman Ben Duckett went on the charge.

But it all fell apart at dizzying speed as the tourists lost their last eight wickets for 95 runs, handing the advantage to India.

Former captain Joe Root came in for some of the harshest criticism for the manner of his dismissal — caught for 18 after trying to play a risky reverse scoop off Jasprit Bumrah — the top-ranked bowler in Test cricket.

Scyld Berry, the chief cricket writer for Britain’s Daily Telegraph, called it the “worst, most stupid, shot in the history of England’s Test cricket”.

Yashasvi Jaiswal took the game decisively away from England with a swashbuckling 214 not out in India’s second innings, borrowing from the tourists’ playbook.

Bullish Duckett, when asked what his side could realistically chase in the fourth innings, said “the more the better” but they were shot out for a paltry 122 in just 39.4 overs.

England have enjoyed notable success since Stokes teamed up with coach Brendon McCullum in 2022, winning 14 out of 20 Tests before the Rajkot loss.

Together they injected new life into the side after just one win in 17 matches in a moribund spell under previous skipper Root and their approach was dubbed “Bazball”, in reference to McCullum’s nickname.

But former England Test captain Michael Vaughan believes the latest defeat must serve as a “wake-up call”.

“Even when this England team have lost in the last two years you have always been able to take positives… or they haven’t been hammered,” he said on X.

“This is looking like a wake-up call that surely sends a message you can’t just play one way against quality teams.”

England have registered some eye-catching Test victories playing their never-say-die form of cricket, including against India and Australia.

But BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew says Bazball is at a crossroads, agreeing with Vaughan that it is time to adopt a more nuanced approach.

“Their attacking style should not be binned altogether, of course,” he said. “But now is the time for this team to be more sensible, more flexible, in how they play.”

Agnew, a former England Test bowler, believes while certain players such as Duckett should be given freedom to attack, Root is struggling and should be encouraged to play to his strengths, as a classical Test batsman.

“It is screamingly obvious they need to play a slightly different way,” he said.

“They will not face criticism for playing in a tighter, more circumspect fashion at times. They would actually gain respect for it.”

But neither Stokes nor McCullum appear to be in the mood to change their gung-ho approach as the fourth Test in Ranchi looms.

“Our batting line-up is full of international-class players, we give them the freedom to play what’s in front of them,” said the skipper, whose team started the series with a memorable victory in the first Test in Hyderabad before losing the second in Visakhapatnam.

“It’s disappointing, but we’ll leave it behind us and move on to the next one.”

McCullum, a former New Zealand Test captain, told the BBC he understands the criticism but said the team will block out “outside noise”.

“The dressing room is a very strong place where confidence is high and guys are backed to go out there and allow their talent to flourish,” he said. “If we allow the outside noise to seep in, that’s our problem.”

Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2024

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