Will England change ‘Bazball’ approach after heavy third Test defeat to India?

By Sports Desk February 19, 2024

England suffered a humbling defeat for the first time under the leadership of captain Ben Stokes and head coach Brendon McCullum, swatted aside by 434 runs by India in Rajkot.

After falling 2-1 down in the five-Test series, there have been suggestions far and wide that England’s approach, dubbed ‘Bazball’ in a nod to McCullum’s nickname, needs to be refined.

Here, the PA news agency looks at whether England need to overhaul their philosophy.

What is Bazball?

The first thing to know is McCullum himself dislikes the word, which he feels oversimplifies what he and the rest of the backroom team are trying to do. Most cricket fans associate the term with an attacking style, especially when batting. But England and McCullum stress what they are trying to do is instil positivity and confidence into their players, taking the fear of doubt and failure away so they can achieve their maximum potential. The results have yielded 14 wins from 21 Tests after just a single victory in 17 previous attempts, while near enough every match has been a blockbuster occasion.

What’s the problem?

They are perhaps a little too impulsive and occasionally guilty of overlooking the match situation. In response to 445, England were on 224 for two inside 40 overs with Ben Duckett shellacking a depleted India attack – Ravichandran Ashwin briefly left the Test to tend to a family matter – to all parts. But the out-of-touch Joe Root took what seemed an unnecessary gamble in the first few minutes of day three with a reverse ramp, England collapsed to 319 all out and India never looked back. There was a near-identical missed chance against Australia at Lord’s last year which helped Pat Cummins’ side retain the Ashes. It appears England are not learning from their mistakes and harsh lessons have followed.

What has been the reaction?

England have come in for widespread criticism on social media. Ashes 2005-winning captain Michael Vaughan wrote on X that this latest setback should act as a “wake-up call”. Nasser Hussain, another former England skipper, said in the Daily Mail that “tweaks” to their philosophy should be considered, adding: “Bazball is not attack, attack, attack. Occasionally, you must absorb pressure.”

Will England pay any heed?

There is no need to chuck the baby out with the bathwater. It is worth remembering that India have not lost a Test series at home since 2012. The sides led by Sir Alastair Cook in 2016 and Joe Root in 2021 when arriving with more orthodox impulses had forgettable tours; indeed, England have arguably done better than the last two visits already. It was barely three weeks ago that England engineered one of the finest wins in their history in Hyderabad and it appears England fans may have to get used to taking the rough with the smooth. McCullum gave the strongest indication there would be no change of tack, saying: “The positivity and confidence within the environment needs to remain.”

So, more of the same, then?

On the surface, England present a bullish outlook with little regard for outside noise. It is telling that whoever speaks after play is adamant that England are happy to chase down any score in the fourth innings – they have been successful in eight of a dozen attempts. But all may not be as it seems, for after the Lord’s debacle last year, England knuckled down, struck the right balance and were the better team for the last three Tests. Conditions may be completely different now as was then but there is reason for hope as the sides head for Ranchi and the penultimate Test, starting on Friday.

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