Ever since this term Bazball has come into the picture, cricket fans especially fans from India are in absolute awe. Those like me who have seen and experienced the pure form of Test cricket are even impressed with this phenomenon but they are not going gaga about it. On the contrary people like me are actually worried about the future interest in Test cricket due to this. The current generation wants everything fast and furious as they have seen too many T20s at the league level or at an international level.
First, let us get a general idea about what is this Bazball all about. We all know that the current Test coach of the England cricket team Brendon McCullum, the nicked name ‘Baz’, is known for his attacking batting style. Just like Virender Sehwag of India or Adam Gilchrist of Australia, McCullum also used to attack the ball in any format. His batting style became popular for his show in the first-ever IPL match that happened in 2008. Playing for Kolkata Knight Riders Brendon McCullum set the syllabus for the tournament’s future by literary murdering the bowlers of the Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Since then McCullum continued with this style of attacking batting, whether it is a T20 game, ODI, or a Test match regardless of its level i.e. league, first-class, list A, or international. But if we go through his style more often than not he wasn’t that successful. But like Sehwag and Gilchrist he never gave it a thought about not being consistent with this kind of batting and probably that is why he has always been a threat to the opposition till he retired from the game.
The same mentality or strategy he has injected into the English Test team. Play fearlessly, play your natural game, don’t get bogged down, and keep looking for runs, and by doing that kill the mental strength of the opposition team. McCullum should find himself lucky as he got a captain in Ben Stokes who has exactly the same thinking regarding how to play the bowlers no matter which format he is playing and at what level he is playing.
Not even a year has passed since McCullum has become the coach of the English Test team and implemented the Bazball strategy, yet it has made many fans across the cricketing world including India. Social media in India is full of praise for Bazball and they want Team India to adopt the same strategy and play like England. This bandwagon has increased pace after England’s 3-0 whitewash of Pakistan in the recently concluded series in Pakistan.
But being a purist and an absolute fan of Test cricket I have my doubts and reservations regarding Bazball. If you see closely most of the tracks in Pakistan were absolutely flat. The track at Rawalpindi was taunted as a highway and it also got de-merit points from the ICC. In Multan and Karachi, the pitches were hardly different. It is not easy to score 500 runs on the opening day of a Test match on any track and I am mindful of that fact as well. But the English team with the help of four centuries by their batters was able to achieve that feat under this Bazball strategy.
In Multan, this fast and attacking batting by England continued, and in Karachi, especially in the second innings, they made runs with a run rate of more than 6 runs per over at times. But, as I mentioned all three tracks were not that bowler friendly as they should have been and that helped Bazball to glow and grow. Despite this batting by English batters, the first two Tests were close to what they were expected after the first days’ plays. Not because the Pakistani batters gave them a fight but because of this Bazball thing, the English team took the time factor out of the game, and hence the Pakistanis were found struggling to make up the time remaining in the Test match. By playing all-out attacking batting the English team gave a new way to struggle with its opposition of which it was totally unaware.
Now, first, let me come to this time factor first and then I shall share my thoughts on why the Bazball phenomenon will not be consistently successful.
As a purist, like many others, I feel that Test cricket is meant to be played for five days. In a perfect world getting results in a Test match on its final day and in the final session is amazing. Many of the Test matches that are called classics, even if they are drawn have got results on the final days’ final session. Now, by taking the time factor out of the equation England has robbed this pure excitement.
Why I am saying this is because by scoring huge and fast in the first innings itself this Bazball thing has made sure that the Test match will not last probably more than four days. It is not that all the Tests in recent two decades have lasted for five days and we have even seen two days Tests in the past and most recently in Perth between Australia and the West Indies. But those less than five days of Tests had their endings in a natural way and were not forced by attacking batting most of the time.
This argument of mine may look weak and I admit that it is weak, but I am an advocate of longer and more interesting Tests where both sides have equal chances and opportunities to win the Test on the fourth or fifth day. Just like T20s and ODIs, Test cricket has its own pace and the teams must stick to it. I am not saying to bring back those days when Geoffrey Boycotts and Sunil Gavaskars were used to playing all five days and even the first innings were not been completed by the teams. No!
It is also true that first ODIs and then T20s have increased the pace of Test cricket, but again I would say that it has happened naturally. Sehwag and Gilchrist and likes are the natural culprits of this transformation but not the entire team has ever forced the pace of Test cricket to become fast and furious. So I will conclude my argument with this plea or with the wish that please don’t force Test cricket to rapid its pace unnaturally. If it happens naturally then it’s fine but doesn’t comply with that Test should also be as quick as T20s.
Now let us check the possible reasons why the Bazball strategy will not last long and will have its natural death. I am betting on the same instrument that made Englishmen able to score 500 runs on the first day of the Rawalpindi Test, and that is the pitch and the conditions. Why PCB during the Australia and England series made flat tracks is another subject to discuss, but not all the subcontinent boards or teams will prefer such tracks in their home conditions. While I am writing this the second Test between Bangladesh and India at Dhaka just got finished and India won the Test in an extremely exciting situation without playing Bazball.
So, my point is that no matter which team adopts Bazball will be able to score 400 or 500 runs with a run rate of 5 or 6 runs per over on every pitch despite having attacking intent in batting. Why? Because unlike any other sport in cricket the pitch and the conditions have big say on how the game is played. Just like the last time when England toured India, we offered rank turners, and the Day and Night Test in Ahmedabad was completed in just two days due to such a track.
If providing a flat track to save the blushes of its team can be the strategy of PCB, and producing rank turners to provide ammunition to its spin strength can be the strategy of BCCI, SLC, or BCB. On such turning tracks, right from the word go you will not be able to hit the ball and score quickly. You need to plan a strategy on how to play on the first day, the second day, and so on. If you try to hit the ball out of the park each and every time on rank turners forget 500 runs your team may get bundled out for just 50 runs in the first session itself.
Forget subcontinent conditions let’s talk about the English pitches and conditions themselves. When the so-called summer of English cricket starts, most of the time the conditions are conducive for swing bowling. Not only that sometimes to tease the opposition or to keep English interest going, but the curators in England also keep plenty of grass on the pitch. In such a situation, the ball will not only swing but will also seam and will create double problems for the foreign (read subcontinent cricketers) cricketers.
In the past few years, even Asian teams like India have added the ability to swing and seam the ball in foreign conditions. Bowlers like Jaspreet Bumrah, Mohammad Shami, Mohammad Siraj, and Umesh Yadav can create havoc on such pitches. So imagine a scenario where India wins the toss in such conditions and asked England to bat with such a bowling strength, will it be easy to implement Bazball for the Englishmen in their own conditions? The answer is probably ‘no’, and here is why I feel that this Bazball thingy will get its natural death sooner rather than later.
If we talk about Bazball enthusiasts in India they are from this generation only, well most of them are. So, they want everything fast and result-oriented, but that is not possible in sports. Every team enters the field to win there is no doubt about it but then they just can go blazing each and every time and in some games, they even have to settle for a draw. It is said that in Test cricket even a draw is a result and we have seen many interesting draws in past.
Yes, Test matches must have more results than draws but then leave that to nature, and thus no need to force the result every time. I appreciate one aspect of Bazball and that is to accept defeat also while forcing the fast Test cricket, but then Test cricket must remain pure, a bit slow, and simple. Wasn’t the second and last Test between Bangladesh and India not interesting and an absolute cracker? None of the teams played Bazball in Dhaka, the Test ended on the fourth day but still, it was exciting and a result producer.
But, as I mentioned a few possibilities that Bazball will not last long, I sincerely hope that that happens and Test cricket remains beautiful without it with Tests like the one we just saw in Dhaka.
Till next time we meet it is Avjo from me.
25th December 2022, Sunday