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    How Bazball changes one of the fundamental principles of Test cricket
How Bazball changes one of the fundamental principles of Test cricket
via Midjourney

How Bazball changes one of the fundamental principles of Test cricket

The brilliance of England's approach lies in its ability to remove the traditional consequences of dismissal from the equation.

Joe Root has come out of the crease. He arrived nine balls ago. England has reduced their target by 154 runs, which is their highest target in the Bazball era. They achieved this in just under 31 overs, with 87 runs scored on the fourth morning. One of the three wickets lost belongs to the nightwatchman, who hit five boundaries.

Root is England's second-highest Test scorer. At the start of the Test, he had scored more runs than the entire Indian XI. In the first innings, he surpassed 1000 Test runs in India. Root's body of work is built on traditional Test-match craft. In the past, it would have been natural to expect a batter of his pedigree to settle in and take the chase deep on a pitch that is still comfortable for batting.

However, this is not the way things are done these days, and certainly not by Root, who has embraced the new style with the skill of a late-life convert. In the last nine balls, he has scored 16 runs. The first ball, bowled by R Ashwin, was reverse-swept for four. On the third delivery, Root attempted another reverse sweep, which resulted in a fortuitous four off the glove. The seventh ball was hit for a six-over long-off. Currently, he is advancing down the pitch, aiming for the unguarded leg-side fence.

Ashwin bowls around the wicket. The ball has been pushed wide, and it's turning away. Root is deceived as it flies, but is determined to play. He finishes with a wild flail of his bat over his shoulder, pointing towards square leg, head tilted towards the offside, and with his eyes shut. The ball has been sliced towards backward point in a horror shot, causing a fleeting expression of horror on Root's face.

To suggest that this stroke encapsulated the essence of Bazball - hitting many and missing a few - would be telling only half the story.

The reward that comes with the risk is just a part of it, but what enables the approach is that failure comes with no recrimination, and in that lies its real genius. In another era, this stroke would have brought howls of indignation from fans, and analysts would have focused on it as a trigger for England's collapse.

The fact that none of those events occurred illustrates not only how England, under Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum, have re-engineered their approach to Test batting but also how profoundly they have influenced the game's discourse. It wasn't just Root and the England team who shrugged it off as part of the plan, but dismissals like this from England's batters have now become so normalised that this one barely registered as a misadventure to those watching. This is a testament to their success in repositioning Test batting as an audacious and gallant pursuit of fast runs, regardless of the outcome.

This is a testament to their success in repositioning Test batting as an audacious and gallant pursuit of fast runs, regardless of the outcome. It represents a fundamental shift in the texture of Test cricket, but it remains to be seen whether this approach will be sustainable in the long run. Batting is the most challenging of sporting endeavours as every ball carries the risk of dismissal. Test batting is based on the principle of minimising risks. Losing a wicket, especially of a top-order batter, is a significant and decisive event in Tests, unlike in shorter formats where the limited number of overs makes batting resources appear relatively abundant.

The freedom resulting from the removal or reduced impact of dismissals is evident in the variety of strokeplay in T20 cricket. Without the fear of losing the wicket, the batsman can position themselves better to aim. Getting caught becomes just an occupational hazard, while hitting on the up becomes a routine option.

Good-length balls can be driven and balls within the line of the stumps can be hit square, but Test batting prioritises preservation. This gives bowlers larger margins in Test cricket. They can construct spells, formulate plans, position catchers, and sequence balls, knowing that the structure and rhythms of Test cricket give them space to build towards dismissals. Batting involves continual risk assessment, but safety standards are much higher in Tests. This grants bowlers greater allowance for deviation from the perfect length or line, as batters typically wait for balls close enough to drive or short enough to cut or pull.

Root's ten-ball innings in Visakhapatnam may have appeared reckless at first, and Harry Brook's baseball-style hitting may give the impression of a complete disregard for the basic principles of batting, but England's new batting philosophy is focused on reorienting the mind.

By removing the fear of consequences and reprisals, the England management has not only unlocked scoring opportunities that always existed but were not always accessed, but they have also presented their opponents with a different challenge. There have been carefree batsmen throughout the history of the game, and Virender Sehwag is an example of a batsman who has been devastatingly successful by treating every ball as a run-making opportunity, but rarely has a team as a whole adopted this approach.

Zak Crawley has increased his average by almost eight runs during the Bazball era. He achieved this not by swinging wildly, but by pouncing more aggressively on scoring opportunities. Crawley has left Jasprit Bumrah more assuredly than anyone else in this series, and he has capitalised on marginal errors of a length better than anyone else. So far in the series, he is the only top-order batsman not to be dismissed by Bumrah. In the second Test, he hit eight boundaries against nine for the opposition.

Crawley has maximised driving opportunities while Duckett, his opening partner, has capitalised on the slightest offering of width to execute his most profitable shot, the cut. Despite being sidelined after four unimpressive Tests in 2016, which yielded him an average of 15.71, Duckett has scored over 1100 runs at nearly 50 since he was rehabilitated as an enforcer by the current management. Notably, his strike rate has increased from 57.89 to 90.06.

During India's highest chase in Birmingham, Shardul Thakur conceded 113 runs off 18 overs. Similarly, in the Ashes, Scott Boland, who had an economy rate of 2.31, was hit for nearly five runs an over. In Tests, Mohammed Siraj has an economy rate of 5.70, and Mukesh Kumar, playing his first home Test in Vishakhapatnam, was unable to settle.

India finds themselves in unfamiliar territory on multiple fronts.

Recently, they have been able to defeat teams on sharp turners, as they did with England in 2020-21. On traditional Indian wickets, such as those in this series, they have always had the batting power to overwhelm their opponents with runs, as they did with England in 2016-17. Despite scoring 400 and 477 in the first innings, England lost two Tests by large margins.

This time, providing spin-friendly pitches carries the risk of increasing the threat posed by the inexperienced England spin attack to the weakest Indian batting line-up in a home series in recent history. On the other hand, flat pitches can enhance England's ability to score quickly, while India's batting has not been able to decisively win matches so far.

India is facing a challenge that appears to contradict the basic principles of Test cricket: a group of batters who seem like kamikaze fighters, even though they are not, and a team that has relieved the pressure on itself by creating the impression that they are winning even when they are losing.

These factors have combined to produce an intriguing five-Test series between two flawed teams.

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