It isn’t just Bazball – India are better, full credit to their supply chain | BetaVersa - BetaVersa
March 25, 2024

It isn’t just Bazball – India are better, full credit to their supply chain | BetaVersa

3 min read

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There are two issues with blaming Bazball for England’s defeat in Rajkot. Firstly, a defeat, however crushing, cannot carry greater weight than the 14 wins in 21 matches (this, after 11 defeats in 17 Tests previously). More significantly, it ignores how good the Indian team is, and how strong their supply chain management has become.

Bazball tends to irritate experts. Perhaps it is the self-confidence of the players. (“We can chase 600 runs”). It demands risk-taking in a format which preaches risk-aversion. There might a touch of schadenfreude too, especially among former players.

All this is shows a misunderstanding of what Bazball stands for. It is not about hitting every ball, nor is it about winning every match. It is a mindset which works on putting pressure on the opposition through positive cricket, but is equally conscious of the need to absorb pressure too.

England have been playing this brand of attractive cricket for a couple of years now, and it would be a pity — and Sartrean bad faith — if the criticism got to them and they jettisoned the approach. Sure it needs tweaking, and a better understanding of the concept even among the English players.

Root’s discomfort

Joe Root might well be the greatest batter to have played for England. The manner of his two dismissals in Rajkot points to a fundamental flaw in Bazball. Despite all claims of letting the players express themselves in the manner they like, bat (or bowl) without fear, and play without any recrimination from colleagues, the concept assumes a certain uniformity in aspirations and responses.

All batters are not equal. Despite surprising Pat Cummins with a reverse-hit six in a Test, and playing strokes sanctified by T20, Root gives the impression these departures from his essential self make him uncomfortable. He might want to belong; he has said he wishes to support skipper Ben Stokes like Stokes had supported him when he was captain.

Whatever the case, England’s game spiralled downwards from the moment he reverse hit Jasprit Bumrah into Yashasvi Jaiswal’s hands at slip in the first innings. It didn’t help that England’s approach in the chase was confusing. This lack of decisiveness exposed cracks in Bazball which prides itself on clear messaging.

Root might have been unlucky when his attempted sweep in the second innings failed on the umpire’s call. “Everybody has a plan till they are punched in the mouth,” said the boxer Mike Tyson. Everybody has a plan till they are 50 for seven.

England’s fortunes in the remainder of the series will depend on Root rediscovering the touch that has fetched him 11,493 runs and 30 centuries.

Bazball — a shorthand invented by a journalist — is obsessed with positive cricket. Sometimes playing for a draw can be a positive response, especially in a five-Test series. And the best man to lead such a batting approach is Root. Stokes thinks England will win the series 3-2. Ben Duckett has given Bazball the credit for Jaiswal’s double centuries. The extravagance of the statements matches the extravagance of the batting.

No need

India don’t need Bazball when playing at home. They were without their three best batters (Virat Kohli, K.L. Rahul, Rishabh Pant), their regular medium-pacer (Mohammed Shami) and their best spinner, Ashwin, for the most part. They had two debutants and a middle-order that had played fewer Tests than Root’s average in the series.

Since their last tour of Australia where they won the Brisbane Test and the series with what was in effect their third team, India have shown a resilience and a willingness to “run into the danger”, to use Stokes’s memorable phrase about his team’s approach to Bazball.

That series win came three years ago. Only three players from that eleven played in Rajkot where Yashasvi Jaiswal, Shubhman Gill, Dhruv Jurel and Sarfaraz Khan looked like the youngsters preparing to take India into the next decade.

If it looks like a 4-1 series for India at this stage, that is merely what was expected before it began. If India plan to rest Jasprit Bumrah to keep him fit for the final Test (and, I suspect, for the IPL), there is a touch of Bazball arrogance about that.

There is much to be said for so-called old-fashioned strategies like retaining a winning combination, defence sometimes being the best form of offence and playing session by session!

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