Bazball stops Joe Root and senior England stars being held accountable

Joe Root produced an ugly dismissal in the first innings in Rajkot (Picture: Reuters)

Ouch and double ouch! A shellacking that painful will have tested even the most zealous of Bazball’s proponents. To lose by 434 runs, England’s worst Test defeat by that measure since World War Two, borders on self-destruction, especially after one of your batters made 153 in the first innings.

But will England change their approach for Friday’s fourth Test in Ranchi? I doubt it. Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum have forged a team of Edith Piafs, regretting nothing in the pursuit of…. well what exactly, given they are eighth out of nine in the World Test Championship table?

I know they say their mission is to make people fall in love with Test cricket again and hang the result, but professional sport is about winning and this approach is squandering chances to do so with wilful abandon.

Bazball has brought vigour but not rigour to England’s cricket, especially among the batters, and you need some semblance of the latter in places like India, where illusion is king.

Following Stokes’ side recently, and I include last year’s Ashes series, has been like watching Leeds United under Marcelo Bielsa after they were promoted to the Premier League in 2020; exciting, ding-dong football but not much glory.

England captain Ben Stokes must hold his players accountable

England captain Ben Stokes must hold his players accountable (Picture: Reuters)

I’m not saying England should have won the third Test in Rajkot but they had the opportunity to make India sweat far more than they did; the short distance between heavy perspiration and panic well known to those not blinded by shiny, new ideologies. In other words, keep pressuring an opponent and you never know.

The problem for many supporters and cricket players, and not just older generations, is while Bazball has rejuvenated England’s Test team, it fails to hold players accountable for their performances.

We’d probably all like our actions and decisions to be free of jeopardy or responsibility, it would make them easier, but human activity doesn’t work like that. Anyway, how players deal with jeopardy is part of what makes sport interesting, especially in slow-burn situations like Test cricket.

Take Joe Root’s dismissal in the first innings. Senior players like him should be setting the right tone for team-mates, yet Root did the exact opposite, playing a reckless ramp shot against Jasprit Bumrah, his dismissal setting in motion a collapse of game-shifting proportions after England lost eight wickets for 95 runs.

Root has played shots like that before and they have come off to great applause, so it would be hypocritical to chastise him for the stroke. Where he is culpable, though, is playing it when he did; with Ben Duckett going well on 141 and with India, a bowler down after Ravichandran Ashwin left to attend a family emergency, beginning to run short of ideas.

Root did not misread the importance of the moment, he’s too experienced for that. It’s just that Bazball’s testosterone-heavy ideals have made him discard the cool, calculating batting upon which he forged his world-class reputation.

It’s as if he’s forbidden himself to soak up pressure through defence of any kind and making attack (and crazy, gung-ho attack at that) his only option. He is one of our greatest ever batters but there comes a point, now close to being reached, that however great the player they cannot keep being indulged. There are precedents.

In 1967, Geoffrey Boycott was dropped for slow scoring against India at Headingley, after he made 246 in a match England won by six wickets. Root’s current issues are the opposite of Boycott’s, though with the team 2-1 down with two to play, a middle way between the two might be preferable.

England coach Brendon McCullum has vowed to keep attacking

England coach Brendon McCullum has vowed to keep attacking (Picture: PA)

England’s other problem with the bat is their over-reliance on the sweep and reverse-sweep, mostly against the spinners. While those two shots have served some well, Duckett in Rajkot and Ollie Pope in Hyderabad, it is risky once the ball gets older and when the bounce becomes variable, which it tends to do from day three onwards.

Essentially, sweep shots are used by those who aren’t confident of using their feet to spin or unable to read the direction of turn from wrist-spinners like Kuldeep Yadav. They are blanket shots which can keep the score ticking when batsmen make contact but invite the umpire’s closest attention when they do not. England’s middle-order has not pulled its weight, and lbw sweeping seems to be the reason.

It isn’t just the batting which has cost England since they won the first Test, on a pitch that turned from the outset. Following that match, India’s groundsmen have produced surfaces that have not really spun until much later.

That change, with India twice winning the toss and batting first, has enabled them to trouble England with that old enforcer, scoreboard pressure, thanks mainly to left-handed opener, Yashasvi Jaiswal, who notched up his second double ton of the series in Rajkot.

England batter Jonny Bairstow is struggling for runs

England batter Jonny Bairstow is struggling for runs (Picture: Getty)

It has also revealed the large gulf between England’s spin attack of Tom Hartley, Rehan Ahmed, Shoaib Bashir and Root and India’s, which comprises Ashwin, Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel.

With the ball not turning as frequently as in the opening Test, England’s spinners have been exposed for what they are – callow, not fully formed, with actions and temperaments unable to withstand big pressure moments due to that lack of experience. India was always likely to be a baptism of fire for them and so it is proving.


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