All good things must come to an end and after a remarkable honeymoon period under new coach Brendon McCullum and new captain Ben Stokes, their run of remarkable Test victories came to an abrupt end, thrashed by South Africa by an innings and 12 runs at Lord’s.
Under new captain Stokes and coach McCullum, England had made a dream start, beating India in a Test in July which brought their five-match series from last summer to a close.
This was preceded by a clean sweep against New Zealand in June, winning the series 3-0 and marking the start of a new era for England Test cricket. Thanks to their aggressive batting approach in all four Tests, the new era was dubbed “Bazball” after coach McCullum who is affectionately referred to as Baz.
In the three Test matches against New Zealand, England successfully chased down scores of 277, 299 and 296 – something that would previously have seemed out of reach.
England headed into the three-Test series against the Proteas on a high. Full of confidence, it was widely expected that England would take it to the South Africans and look to compile a big score as they were put into bat first.
Sadly for England, it didn’t play out that way. The South African bowlers ripped through the top order, reducing England to 55-4 with only Ollie Pope, batting at three, offering any resistance in a knock of 73 off 102 balls.
Both openers feel for single figures and were followed by Root and Bairstow, with the latter falling for a duck despite being in the form of his life.
England’s bowlers gave England some hope. Despite a strong start by the South African batsmen, some fine bowling by captain Stokes and Stuart Broad reduced the Proteas to 192-5 and 210-6 before they let the tail-end run away, adding another 126 for the last four wickets to post a first-innings lead of 161.
Despite the deficit, England have come into their own in the second innings against India and New Zealand, however, it was not to be this time, crumbling to 149 all out in just 37.4 overs on just the third day of the Test.
So, does this mean the end of Bazball? Not if Stokes and McCullum are to be believed.
“This is absolutely not a wake-up call or anything like that. It was just unfortunate we’re unable to execute in the way that we want to play this week,” said Stokes.
McCullum echoed his captain with his post-match comments, “I think we weren’t quite able to attack when the opportunity presented itself.
“We have a little bit of work to do, but you don’t go from being a good team to a bad one overnight.”
The reaction of McCullum and Stokes didn’t stop the reaction on social media to the result, with many already proclaiming the death of Bazball.
Is Bazball sustainable at Test level?
Whilst Stokes and McCullum bot remain upbeat about England’s new Test match philosophy, there have been a number of questions raised as to whether that style of play is sustainable at Test level.
The success of shorter forms of the game including T20 and The Hundred has definitely impacted the way many modern-day cricketers approach the game.
McCullum, of course, holds the record for the most sixes at Test level and it is no surprise that he has introduced a more aggressive style to England’s play. With Stokes sitting second on the list of players with the most sixes, they are a perfect duo to take England forward.
But at what cost will their aggressive batting come?
What happens when their aggressive batting doesn’t work and they are on the back foot? There is only so long the evergreen Jimmy Anderson can keep bailing them out with the ball having just turned 40.
Against South Africa, they couldn’t bat their way out of trouble against a hostile pace attack and it’s in those situations that you wonder if England has a plan B.
Even in defeat, the strike rate throughout the team was high by Test standards. Stuart Broad topped the strike rates in the second innings, smashing 35 off 29 balls when the game was already lost for a strike rate of 120.69. Four of the top six batsmen had a SR of 60+ in the second innings which still displays a commitment to the attacking style of play that had brought them such positive results in their four previous Tests.
How does the rest of the summer look?
It’s still far too early to say whether Bazball will succeed for England. Just five games into the new regime, there simply isn’t enough cricket in the record books to suggest whether a more aggressive approach to Test cricket is something we might see more teams doing.
With two further Tests to come against South Africa, England will face a long wait until they next get the opportunity to put the new approach to the test. Their next Test cricket will be against Pakistan in early December followed by a two-Test series in New Zealand in February.
Despite defeat in the first Test, England are still the favourites with Betway Sports to win the second Test at Old Trafford starting on 25 August. South Africa are favourites to win the series, however, the result of the second Test will certainly have an impact as they play the third, and hopefully, deciding Test at The Oval starting on 8 September.