Welcome to ‘Baz Ball’
The new, attacking approach to Test cricket saw the new England regime romp to a 3–0 series win
The ink on the scorecard from Headingley is barely dry, but the memories of the last five days are already imprinted in the minds of England fans everywhere.
The conclusion of the Third Test in Leeds brings to an end a tour that the New Zealand camp might not be keen to remember.
Yet the fact is that the reigning World Test Champions were unfortunate enough to be on the end of the first-ever installment of a new and sexy type of test cricket: Baz ball.
This test series signaled the start of a brand new era for English cricket. A new captain and a new coach but, most importantly, a new philosophy, came into the fold.
Before the first ball at Lords back on the 2nd of June, English test cricket was in tatters. A run of one win in 17 led to an overhaul in captaincy, coaching team, and playing staff.
A series against New Zealand should have proved a tough start for Stokes and McCullum, but only if England gave them a chance.
Over the next four weeks, ‘Baz Ball’ pushed English Test Cricket onto a rollercoaster which has been as exciting as it has been unexpected.
In each of the three test matches, England needed to bat last in order to seal the victory. Batting last four of five days on the pitch can be fraught with difficulty, especially when a batting line-up is low on confidence and momentum.
To the England of old, a target of over 250 would have been daunting. The old regime was unable to structure a run chase on a regular enough basis to get back in the mix as one of the top Test teams.
The new England, however, has apparently — over a very short time — developed the ability to chase down tricky targets at various paces.
Take the First Test at Lords for example. England set a target of 277, a target that could have been tricky. Early wickets fell, but the panic did not set in.
Joe Root, in his first match since relinquishing the captaincy, did what he did best: score lots of runs.
The victory was sealed with five wickets still in the shed, making for a welcome and surprisingly straightforward victory.
The five-wicket win at Trent Bridge, although the same in result, was the first glimpse of how a McCullum/Stokes England could win a Test match.
When Alex Lees fell for 44, England was four wickets down and still required over 200 for victory.
I, like probably many other England fans, were fearing a middle and lower-order collapse.
However, when Jonny Bairstow was joined at the crease by his captain, the two set about winning the match as quickly and as brutally as possible.
A bludgeoned 136 from just 92 balls had Bairstow being applauded off when he was finally dismissed by Trent Boult, but an unbeaten 75 from just 70 balls courtesy of Stokes had turned a tough final-day run chase into something out of a video game.
The series was rounded off, fittingly, with another thumping masterclass by Bairstow this time on his home ground.
Reaching his half-century from just 30 balls, Bairstow hit 10 from two balls to wrap up a 3–0 series whitewash for England.
It is the early days of ‘Baz Ball’ or the ‘McStokes’ era as some others have christened these new days, and things will not always go England’s way in the coming weeks and months.
However, one observation that can absolutely be taken away from this series is that, no matter what the result, watching England play Test cricket won’t be dull for the foreseeable future.