Winning a test match in India is the most difficult cricketing achievement in the last decade. It is one of the rarest sights in cricket. In the last decade, India had lost just 3 test matches at home before the start of the England series. But enters Ben Stokes and his Bazballing England side.
There was so much hype and talk about the series. ‘Bazball’ was the word of the town. Everyone was anticipatingly looking forward to this new looking carefree England side taking on the mighty Indian side at home. Many experts believed that India would cakewalk through this aggressive England side. But England scripted a comeback for the ages in the first test match by defeating India by 28 runs. Trailing by 190 runs, England made 420 runs in the 3rd innings of a test match with the Indian bowling lineup consisting of Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, and Jasprit Bumrah. So, what did England do right? What exactly is the fuzz behind this Bazball?
The word “Bazball” has become such a popular word in the recent times that it was added to the Collins dictionary as one of the top 10 significant words in the year 2023. The dictionary defined the word Bazball as “a style of Test cricket in which the batting side plays in a highly aggressive manner”. Most of the people have failed to understand the term Bazball. Many of them have hyped it to unmeasurable heights calling it ‘revolutionary’ while some have taken it so lightly that it has backfired them.
Most of the teams and people have confused Bazball to be careless instead of carefree. Bazball is nothing but a mental shift in the players to be fearless with their actions on the field be it batting, bowling, or fielding. It is a philosophy that frees players from the fear of failure and enables them to express themselves. It is bringing the best out of each individual with the skillsets they possess. The players have been given the backing and trust by the management to be able to get a longer run in the team irrespective of an occasional failure. It has enabled players to play to their fullest potential possible.
Had it not been the case, Ollie Pope could not have played some outrageous sweeps in the second innings after looking completely out of sorts in the first innings. Tom Hartley could not have produced the spell of his life on debut after being completely annihilated by Jaiswal and other Indian batters in the first innings. You could see Ben Stokes giving confidence to Harltey and young Rehan Ahmed after being under the pump throughout the test match. For me, that is Bazball. Creating a cozy team environment where players are not afraid of failure and are able to play a certain brand of cricket that they are suitable of playing.
This Bazball philosophy often instills fear in the minds of the opposition. Even before a single ball was bowled on the opening day of the Ashes Series, Australia had a field spread as if the batsman had crossed his hundred. India also made the same mistake of playing defensively letting the England batters rotate strike far too easily. India were defensive to an extent that even a debutant bowler in Tom Hartley had been set a field with 4-5 fielders on the boundary line. Once the field was spread, the batters were able to milk the bowlers for singles and doubles.
On the contrary, despite of a brisk start from India in the first innings where they were 80 for no loss in no time, Stokes kept his field in. This induced a false shot from well set Rohit Sharma in where Stokes took the catch at mid-off. Also with easy singles not on offer, India had to do something different. In doing so, they gifted wickets to the English side. India got out by playing reckless shots because of the aggressive captaincy by Ben Stokes.
This test match saw the most mature version of Bazball so far with the bat. The core batters in Root, Stokes, and Foakes played in a way that they were comfortable with: slow and steady. The other batters attacked the bowlers once in a while. It was aggressive but never reckless. They did play attacking shots but only if there was a ball offered by the Indians. Once the Indian bowlers lost their rhythm by an occasional sweep or a paddle, the England batters made merry of the spread field offered to them. Due to this approach of the English side, Captain Rohit Sharma often looked clueless. He was waiting for things to happen rather than forcing a mistake from the opposition.
The team has taken this philosophy like a fish to a pond. It has been such a seamless transition for them. Initially, where the batsmen used to practice their defensive skills, here is the England red ball team doing a six hitting drill. The team has been practicing a variety of sweep shots. Joe Root was batting left handed against Pakistan. He was also seen batting left handed in the nets ahead of the second test.
While it may seem that this might backfire them on extreme pitches, so far it has worked for them in swinging conditions of New Zealand and England, sedate dead pitches of Pakistan, and a turning track in India. With 14 out of 19 matches won under this “Bazball” philosophy, they also have the numbers to show. Had they been a little smarter in the first test of the Ashes Series and helped by rain in the fourth test, the results might have been 4-1 in the favour of England, who knows? They also lost a test match by 1 run against New Zealand.
This philosophy is still a work in progress. There will be a set of challenges ahead. There will be times when the tactics will look extremely foolish. All things might go haywire for them. But with a culmination of a little smartness and measured aggression, it is not as a bad philosophy as it looks like. The main thing about it is the clarity of the management about this philosophy. There will be some painful losses on the way, but the management is firm with their plans to them no matter what happens. They are not letting the outside noise affect their inner environment.
Going ahead, England might lose the series badly. But the English team has responded to the speculations of Bazball working in India in style. The series has set up brilliantly with England in the ascendancy. It will be interesting to see how this unbeatable Indian side responds to this unexpected loss. India are in a tough conundrum ahead of the second test: to prepare a turner or to make a flat wicket. Either way, with the quick scoring nature of England, it may backfire on India.
India must be very smart with their decision making for the rest of the series. They have to not let England control the game. One session of Bazball can completely change the course of the match. They must not be awed by an occasional boundary here and there. They must stick to their plans. But one thing’s sure, they must not let “Bazball” get into their heads…