Hosts stronger of the sides, strategy let them down

Credit: ICC

Baz McCullum is someone I have known for a while. When I jog my memory back, it takes me to 2008 and the formation of the Indian Premier League. That’s when our friendship started and I am honoured and privileged to call him a friend. Honest, warm, a huge heart and great company are some of his biggest attributes. He is what he is, no two ways about that. Having spent a lot of time, over travel, dressing rooms, dinners and most importantly the golf course, I can safely say I know this man well.

When England named their new playing mantra as Bazball, no one was more perturbed by this term than Baz himself. I had no issue with the name. I was sceptical about its usage and survival. The closest analogy that comes to mind is of a class bully who seems to have the last word and gets his way around in his domain. Something he has gives him an edge over the others who well may be more accomplished than him or his group. Now, when this class bully meets another class bully, there is mutual respect and understanding of not stepping on each other’s toes and be the boss of your region. They don’t take each other on and if they do, it is with mutual respect and admiration.

So when England were playing their new brand of cricket against the lower ranked sides, it worked perfect. Playing Bazball brings in a lot of risk and when we say Bazball it’s all in the batting. In bowling, I have not seen a hint of change from the time Bazball was not implemented and now.

Now in this Ashes series, England have batted 35% less balls than Australia. Over five Tests, that is a huge margin. This means they gave taken 35% more risk in batting than Australia did, in plain and simple terms. At times, I saw Bazball not happening. The biggest example of this came in the last Test match at the Oval. With an injury to Mo Ali, Ben Stokes promoted himself to No 3 and I got my seat belts on because I thought we were going to see Bazball from the man with the most in his armoury. Alas! Stokes scored 42 off 67 at a strike rate of 62.69. What was his strike rate in the first innings — 18.75.

Let’s compare that to the runs scored and strike rates of his teammates in the same match.

In the top 7 highest run getters there is one Aussie — Usman Khawaja @ No 1

In the top 7 with highest strike rates there is one Aussie — Travis Head @ No 7

Going by these stats you would imagine England having the results to back it up. Who is ahead in the series? Who are taking the Ashes home? And I write this with Day 5 yet to start of the last Test and it could well be 2-2, which further emphasises my point that the use of Bazball in the World Test Championship has helped Australia have England eating out of their hands. In this Oval Test, the dismissals of Root & Bairstow were perfect examples of Bazball going wrong. Root grinds you. His first 50 balls will yield 25, but after 150 balls he will be 125 batting. The strike rate improves as he gets set. Not everyone has the ability to strike at 90 from ball one. The closest examples to home I can think of are Virender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid. Both irreplaceable in any all time Indian XI, yet different routes to greatness. Could any of them bat like the other!

To sum it up, Bazball or any ball cannot be a template. This series was a prime example of Bazball gifting the series away. If England had played the number of balls Australia had, and hence taken less risks, they would have won the series. England were a far better side but their strategy let them down big time. If you want the seats to get filled by Bazball so be it, but I get the feeling that you might feel the need to increase the capacity of the stadiums when you start winning an Ashes series and series of such standard.

England are due to tour India early next year. Bazball against Ashwin, Jadeja and Axar on turners. Can’t wait. Bring it on!

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