England is on Monday dealing with the sobering reality that its revolution under new coach Brendon McCullum will not be as straightforward as it first seemed last month.
The Kiwi legend took the head coaching reigns and promptly implemented a new aggressive game plan that saw England crush New Zealand 3-0.
‘Bazball’ – as it is now known as – swept a nation that could not believe its dramatic change in fortunes after being humiliated 4-0 at the Ashes.
But faced with a sterner Test in India at Edgbaston, the other side of the Bazball coin has been exposed, pouring ice-cold water over the English resurgence.
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England was bowled out for 284 to hand India a big 132-run first innings lead. That lead was extended to 257 by stumps on day three, with the tourists 3-125.
One passage on day three best highlighted the fickle nature of Bazball and how, according to Kevin Pietersen, it risks “devaluing” a key component of Test cricket.
England was in strife at 5-83 when captain Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow resurrected the hosts’ innings.
At 5-149, England was not out of the woods, but Captain Stokes engaged T20 mode by trying to smash Shardul Thakur and Mohammed Shami out of the park.
Stokes came down the wicket to pacer Shami and was lucky that Thakur dropped a simple sky ball off his top-edge.
Three overs later, Stokes was charging down the wicket again – this time to Thakur, who he belted to Jasprit Bumrah at mid-off. Stokes was again lucky to see the chance grassed.
The next ball, Stokes attempted the same shot, only for Bumrah to make amends and hold onto the catch, dismissing his opposite number for 25.
In defeat, Stokes could only laugh, smiling his way back to the pavilion where McCullum also greeted his captain with a smile.
But Pietersen was not impressed with what he had seen, and brought Stokes’ implementation of Bazball into question.
“This is reckless batting, this is not defending your wicket, this is not protecting what we call the value of your wicket as a batter,” Pietersen said on Sky Sports.
“Test match hundreds are valuable commodities, and when you get a Test match hundred it means a hell of a lot because of the stress, and the tension, and the patience, and the discipline that goes into it.
“I was watching Stokes there and thinking ‘he’s the captain, he’s the leader’. He’s talking about this new brand of cricket: Slog, Thakur drops him. Slog, straight to mid-off, drops him. Slog again, out.
“Those are three brainfades from Ben Stokes in 10 minutes. And that’s where I think the devaluing of his test wicket is something that I’m watching and may not be a good thing. ”
Former Test batter Mark Butcher said Stokes’ approach was ill-fitting for a player who has the ability to pick his moments instead of going hell-for-leather.
He pointed to one of the greatest Test innings of all time, when Stokes made two runs from his first 66 balls, and ended up with 135 off 219 to beat Australia at Headingley in 2019.
“Ben at the moment is trying to lay down a marker and say ‘if I can go out there and kind of give my wicket away’ – which is kind of what he’s done today, he did it at Leeds as well – ‘and I can go out there and be selfless in the pursuit of a team goal, then you can do that too ‘, ”Butcher said.
“My misgivings about it are Ben Stokes is a guy who can pick the right ball to go after, he can go out there and hold off pressure, which is a lot of what Test cricket is.
“There are always going to be moments where you just have to hold the line for a bit, hold and hold, ‘and now we go at them again’. Force them into making a change.
“Ben probably could have cut both of the balls he slogged straight up in the air. He’s not a ham-and-egger, he’s not a guy who does not have the skill to do it, so that, I guess, is the disappointment.
“They’re going to have to find the line between being hyper-aggressive and pushing the game forward and sometimes taking a tiny step back, being smart and then piling in again.”
Former England captain Nasser Hussain expressed a similar opinion in his column for the Daily Mail.
Hussain wrote that Stokes is trying to “set a template” for his team to follow but, in doing so, has sacrificed his own game.
“It’s taking something away from Stokes the batter because he is one of the most intelligent batsmen I’ve seen in the last few years, going back to 2019 and the Headingley Test and World Cup final, because he thinks his way through situations, Hussain wrote.
“Now he is in charge he does not want to ask a player to do something he is not willing to do himself and at times this summer he has come down the pitch when he does not need to. There will come a time when he has to adjust a bit. ”
By comparison, he said that Bairstow – who has hit three-consecutive centuries this English summer – has been more measured.
“I have not seen him play a single reckless shot in that time. There has not been one occasion when I thought, ‘Don’t do that Jonny, you’re better than that’, ”Hussain wrote.
“He has controlled his instincts, he has controlled his emotions …”
Pietersen said Stokes should adopt Bairstow’s approach instead of trying to execute ‘Bazball’ with a sledgehammer.
“What I see at the moment is someone who is the captain and leader who is trying to command some sort of authority by running at bowlers,” he said.
“He can stand still and do what Jonny Bairstow is doing here today. He does not need to run at bowlers, he does not need to lose his head and he does not need to slog balls straight up in the air when England are in all sorts of strife.
“He’s too good a player to knock himself out.”