IND v ENG: Time to temper the Bazball?

Joe Root’s suicidal reverse sweep evokes memories of Mike Gatting’s infamous shot in the 1987 World Cup final

Joe Root trying to take on Jasprit Bumrah with the infamous 'reverse scoop', which English fans are calling "stupidest shot" of the century (nasser_mo3gza/X)
Joe Root trying to take on Jasprit Bumrah with the infamous 'reverse scoop', which English fans are calling "stupidest shot" of the century (nasser_mo3gza/X)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

Is it time to set aside the Bazball, the much-hyped philosophy behind the recent success of England’s Test team?

This seems to be the question raging as the visitors move on to Ranchi for the fourth Test (starting Friday, 23 February), having just surrendered their hard-earned lead in the series.

Looking ahead, one ponders whether the final scoreline will read like their last visit in 2021 (3-1 in favour of the hosts, with one drawn Test).

Or will England bounce back, adhering to the gameplan that has won it 14 Tests in the past two years?

Both skipper Ben Stokes and mastermind Brendon McCullum have showed us the courage of their conviction— they don't look ready to re-adjust their stance. However, it’s quite apparent that they cannot hope to succeed if they keep playing in the same gear right through, with total disregard for the actual match situation on the day.

Take that one dismissal at Rajkot that is still being talked about: Joe Root's suicidal reverse scoop against Jasprit Bumrah on the third morning, with England well poised at 224 for 2 at the time and looking good to challenge India’s total of 445.

The visitors’ reliance on the sweep and the reverse sweep had worked extremely well for them against the spinners in Hyderabad, forcing the Indian think tank to go back to well-rolled wickets in subsequent matches to tilt the scales somewhat in favour of the batters.

However... the stroke has turned out to be the very recipe for disaster for Root now two Tests in a row. Indeed, it has been unhappily reminiscent of old-timer Mike Gatting’s imperious attempt in the 1987 World Cup final in Kolkata against Australia — the stroke which is still blamed for England eventually failing to make it.

One doesn’t need reminding that the former England captain’s strengths have been technique and patience, which have yielded him 30 Test centuries and the stature of a modern great — with 50-plus averages in India, Sri Lanka and the UAE.

Once Bazball came into play, however, Root’s aggregate plummeted — to 202 runs in the last 11 innings in Asia. With Jonny Bairstow woefully out of form, the England middle order now wears a fragile look.

However, they still seem mulish about carrying on in the same gung-ho style, which amounts to flirting with disaster — and smacks a tad of misplaced arrogance.

Take the second Test, for example: at the end of the third day, James Anderson had asserted that his team would chase down the required 322 runs in 60–70 overs. Eventually, they lost the game by 106 runs.

Ben Duckett was still just as bullish on their strategy last week, though, declaring ‘’the more the better when talking about targets".

Much as the Stokes–McCullum duo might shrug off their worst Test defeat since 1934, it has not gone down well with their former captains — and it’s unlikely that the sizeable Barmy Army travelling with them will take a different view of it. While the likes of Michael Vaughan and Nasser Hussain are not asking them to overhaul their attitude entirely, their plea is to bring in a degree of prudence—and tailor its application to the situation the team finds itself in.

'This is the worst defeat (England has suffered) under (Ben) Stokes and Brendon McCullum. They cannot take the aggressive route at every opportunity, they have to pick their moments,' Vaughan wrote for the

'Bazball is about being attacking but it is also about soaking up pressure,' Hussain wrote on Sky Sports.

Vaughan, in fact, has gone a step further, saying that there is no harm in taking a cue from the likes of Yashasvi Jaiswal and Shubman Gill. 'India have scored 875 runs in 228.5 overs. No one can tell me that it’s been boring watching India bat here,' he added.

To a large extent, England’s approach in the next two Tests should depend on the kind of surfaces they have to contend with in Ranchi and Dharamsala. There is already talk of Stokes returning to bowling once again after the injury, something which is going to lend the visitors' seam attack more balance.

It could be two more interesting battles ahead for the fans…

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