Winning Bizness Sports Desk
The Ashes Test series is over and already cricket connoisseurs have started talking about the next one—to be played in Australia after two years in 2025-26. The just-concluded series was such that it has everyone salivating for more.
England played a brand of cricket that has captured the imagination of every cricket fan. Called Bazball and introduced by its head coach Brendon McCullum, it envisages playing attacking cricket right throughout a game—be it in batting, bowling, fielding, captaincy, strategies or tactics.
This attacking philosophy has been fully bought-in by all England cricketers, both presently in the Test team and also by those on its fringes. The results too have been mind-boggling. McCullum took over as head coach in May 2022 and along with captain Ben Stokes has adopted a fresh approach towards the game by being always on the offensive.
While in earlier days, in Test matches, a 2.5-to-3 runs per over and a score of around 300 runs in a day was considered a healthy performance by a batting side, England now scores at nearly four runs per over and at times, even five. A score of 350 or even closer to 400 a day or even above has now become par for the course whenever England is batting. Rapid scoring gives the English bowlers time to bowl out the opposition twice, again through attacking bowling and field placements.
The Ashes has conclusively proved that England has the all-round fire-power to demolish any opposition. It is not often that one team is down two games in a five-match series but then fights back to square the series 2-2.
When Bazball was first adopted by Stokes and his team under McCullum’s stewardship, there were many sceptics. The general feeling was that attacking cricket with all its attendant risks was no guarantee of success. Instead, there would be times or perhaps even many times when England’s strategy could come unstuck. It would, therefore, be better for England to stick to the tried and tested methods.
However, the results prove otherwise. In 19 Tests as captain, Stokes has led England to wins in 13, including two in the last Ashes series. What makes this Ashes special is the fact that Ben Stokes did not give up on Bazball even when England was two Tests down in the series.
Maybe as the series wore on, England married caution just a little bit with aggression. A few minor tweaks here or there to its strategy—that was all. Otherwise, it was virtually the same Bazball that England continued playing and which had helped England win 11 Tests before this Ashes under the McCullum-Stokes combine.
Over the last one-year, New Zealand, Pakistan, Ireland and now even Australia (despite the drawn series) have become casualties of England’s Bazball style of play.
England defeated Pakistan 3-0 in Pakistan, a no mean feat indeed. It also defeated South Africa 2-1. It drew a series 1-all against New Zealand, an interesting highlight here being New Zealand winning the second Test by just one run. Ireland was another of England’s victims in the sole Test match played before the just-concluded Ashes.
Ben Stokes also led England to a Test win against India last year besides blanking out New Zealand 3-0 in a three-match Test series in June last year. Adding the two Ashes victories to this list, Stokes’ record as captain reads 13 victories in 19 Test matches which testifies to the success of Bazball as well as Stokes’ captaincy capabilities.
It also clearly demonstrates Stokes and his team’s abilities to perfectly execute the pre-match strategies and tactics planned in the dressing room.
The Ashes has conclusively proved that England has the all-round fire-power to demolish any opposition. England, it must be pointed out, was in a position to win both the Tests it lost (the first two of the series) and if weather had not intervened, a third as well. It was Bazball which enabled England to attain dominance over Australia for large parts of the series, the ultimate scoreline of 2-2 notwithstanding.
It is not often that one team is down two games in a five-match series but then fights back to square the series 2-2. The Ashes remains with Australia but only just. England came close to winning the first Test and was ahead in most of the sessions of the match before losing it in the last hour.
It was Bazball which enabled England to push Australia onto the backfoot. What England could perhaps have done and what it should do going forward, is to consider the need for marrying a little caution with all-out aggression.
The second Test was marked by the Jonny Bairstow controversy—his dismissal coming at a very crucial juncture in England’s second innings while chasing a 371-run target for victory.
England were ultimately dismissed for 327. Ben Stokes smashed a sensational 155 and had Bairstow not been given out, the story could have had a different ending—in that case England would have squared the series by the end of the second Test itself.
Chasing 371 for victory, England lost Bairstow to the hotly debated decision at 193 (he was sixth out at the end of the 52nd over). If he had lasted longer, then there was a good chance that both he and Stokes could have forged a match-winning partnership. And also helped the others lower down the order such as Stuart Broad, Ollie Robinson, Jimmy Anderson and Josh Tongue to hunt down the runs.
Tongue, it must be highlighted, scored a fighting 19 runs off just 26 balls and was last out. Here it must be highlighted that England’s last four are no rabbits with the bat as Tongue showed with his spunky 19.
Broad has 13 fifties and one century in his 3,662 Test runs, while Robinson has a highest of 42 runs and has besides, played a few handy knocks. Anderson has 1,340 runs with 81 as his highest (1 fifty).
Therefore, if a partnership had developed between Bairstow and Stokes, and given Stokes’ scintillating form, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that England could have won the match. In this Test too just like in the first, England was in with a chance to win till the last hour.
England could not, however, be denied for long and it won the third Test convincingly to pull one back. Again, it was hotly contested and there were a few nerve-wracking moments in the end just like in the previous two—chasing 251 for victory, England were 171-6. However, the England batters, first Harry Brook who scored an invaluable 75 and in the final stages Woakes and Wood held their nerves to steer England to victory, scoring 32 and 16 not out, respectively.
In the fourth Test, England had forged ahead in the game by the fourth day but just like in the first two Tests, luck tilted Australia’s way and rain thwarted England’s bid for victory. Here, it must be said that England was strongly positioned to push for victory and had weather not taken a hand, England might have squared the series in the fourth Test itself.
That would have made the fifth Test the series decider and with the momentum firmly with England, the host would have had the best chance to recapture the Ashes. As it is, England won the fifth and last Test very convincingly, but could not, however, regain the Ashes.
Bazball cannot be faulted for England’s failure to regain the Ashes. It was Bazball which enabled England to push Australia onto the backfoot. What England could perhaps have done and what it should do going forward, is to consider the need for marrying caution with all-out aggression.
There will be times when the batters need to respect the opposition bowling and there will be times when the bowlers will have to be run-restrictive rather than going all-out for wickets. The field too will need to be spread out at times. An all-out attacking approach cannot always guarantee success and this was proved in this series.
Besides, decisions such as the English declaration in the closing stages of the first day of the first Test match with the aim of capturing a couple of Australian wickets will not always work, especially against strong teams. The Australian openers—Warner and Usman Khawaja—are both experienced players as well and know how to negotiate tricky phases of the game with equanimity.
England is due to tour India early next year and it remains to be seen if the Bazball strategy will succeed against India’s world-class spinners and on spin-friendly pitches.
Perhaps it would have served England’s cause better if England had batted on till close of play, added a few runs more to its total and then declared on the morrow. In the ultimate analysis, it can be said that the lack of those runs cost England the match.
Another point England should keep in mind is the need for its batters to combine shot-making with defence—this assumes tremendous importance especially when playing overseas against strong opposition such as India and Australia and even New Zealand and South Africa.
England is due to tour India early next year and it remains to be seen if the Bazball strategy will succeed against India’s world-class spinners and on spin-friendly pitches. England’s batters will need to adjust to the demands of the Indian pitches and there is every likelihood of England being forced to make some adjustments to its Bazball strategy.
Bazball has passed the Ashes test but in India there will be periods when England will have to guts it out against the Indian spinners and an all-out aggressive approach may not yield the required dividends. India will, therefore, be the real test for England’s Bazball brand of cricket.
So far, however, it has served McCullum, Stokes and company very well. But India will be an entirely different ball game. England will, therefore, do well to take Indian pitches and playing conditions into account and accordingly make the necessary adjustments to its Bazball strategy.