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England’s Bazball, less boom and more bust in India

It may have entertained, but England didn’t win against Australia, New Zealand and now India.

Is there any point to Bazball if England can’t win against the sides that matter? Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum will staunchly uphold their take on cricket but the time can’t be far away when this unconventional approach comes under scrutiny from within for lack of results. For now, narratives have been spun to protect Bazball by highlighting the defeat against India as

England’s Ben Stokes with coach Brendon McCullum before the match(REUTERS)

England’s first in eight Test series under Stokes and McCullum. But among the other seven is also an Ashes at home which they failed to regain in 2023, along with a tour of New Zealand that was drawn 1-1. A question naturally arises over the efficacy of Bazball if it can’t best the current and former world Test champions, leave alone India, hands down the most invincible team in home conditions in the last two decades. To this, Stokes and his England mates have often suggested that Bazball isn’t just wins or losses but a way of life where failure doesn’t come with any regret or recrimination. They can choose to look the other way, but it can’t get more real than the World Test Championship standings where England are still eighth out of nine teams.

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The English media too has been largely forgiving with most of the visible former players still supporting this way of playing while gently pointing out that England were probably never meant to win in India. Geoffrey Boycott however chose to call a spade a spade. “Bazball has given Test cricket a shot in the arm and England deserve praise for that. At times, I love it. But I love winning more and England have failed to beat the best two teams in the world: Australia and now India. What should really hurt them is that they should have beaten both,” wrote Boycott in The Telegraph.

As competitive as England may have been, the insinuation that this has been a close series is not accurate. In the four Tests so far, only once have England crossed 400 — at Hyderabad. India have been there thrice. Among England batters, no one has a higher average than Zak Crawley’s 41 and no bowler has a lower average than Shoaib Bashir’s 32.83. For India, six batters average higher than Crawley and five bowlers average less than Bashir.

After the Ranchi defeat Stokes was asked if England lacked a ruthless edge in the moments that mattered most. His response revealed he was irked. “Ruthlessness? What is it? How does it show itself? Everyone goes into the game with their best intentions, when it doesn’t pay off people say we’re not ruthless but when they do, they say we are,” he said. “I don’t really understand the saying. That’s from my point of view; we try to do what we think is the best way to win the game. It can be a throwaway comment when people say we’re not ruthless enough. What does it mean?” It means keeping India under 200 after reducing them to 177/7 in the first innings at Ranchi, not dropping Dhruv Jurel on 59, and definitely not losing seven wickets for 35 runs after reaching 110/3. Similar moments were won and lost at Rajkot. Letting India score 445 in Rajkot after being 33/3 was a blunder. A bigger howler was that uncharacteristic reverse scoop from Joe Root that led to England losing eight wickets for 95 runs from 224/2.

“The batting cost them winning the Ashes and it lost them the series against India,” wrote Boycott. “In this series they have had odd moments when someone has scored a good hundred. But they have been in isolation and there has been no consistency.”

That England won at Hyderabad largely because they batted first couldn’t have been lost on India even though they did give the target of 231 a mighty chase. Which is why it was doubly impressive of the hosts to not resort to a rank turner at Visakhapatnam or Rajkot and win the series chasing at Ranchi, all without the batting nous of Virat Kohli and KL Rahul.

England had no such absentee. Which only reiterates the point that England may have tried to play brave but couldn’t back it with performances that matter, making this way of cricket a romantic idea at best.


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