If any vindication of England’s attacking approach to Test cricket was still needed, then it came on the fourth morning of the third Test against Pakistan in Karachi.
Led by Ben Duckett’s unbeaten 82 from 78 balls, the tourists wrapped up an eight-wicket victory within 40 minutes of the day getting under way, becoming the first team to sweep Pakistan in a Test series on their home turf.
England have now won nine of their 10 Tests since captain Ben Stokes and head coach Brendon McCullum took charge of the red-ball team and implemented a way of playing colloquially termed as ‘Bazball’, having tasted victory just once in 17 Tests prior to that.
World Test Championship holders New Zealand in their own back yard in February and a home Ashes series against old rivals Australia next summer will undoubtedly be stiff examinations of whether this is a long-term strategy for success, but former England batter Mark Butcher is impressed by how Stokes and McCullum have effected a turnaround in fortunes so far.
“The idea or the feeling of losing either a four-day game if you’re playing county cricket or losing a Test match was always something to be afraid of,” Butcher told Sky Sports.
“It felt bad and as if somehow your entire cricketing strategy or skills were in question if you lost one of those type of games, and they’ve basically stripped all of that away and said ‘it doesn’t matter, it’s not the end of the world if we lose one of these’.
“It’s a little bit like the Newcastle team under Kevin Keegan – if they score four, we’ll score five. It’s that type of mentality, and they’ve taken that into a cricketing sense, and they’ve only lost one game playing like that which was against South Africa on that juicy one at Lord’s back in July.
“All of the other games they’ve chased down totals…then you get two Test matches in Pakistan where they had to bat first, set the pace themselves and they won doing it that way as well. Lots of questions will keep coming about ‘Bazball’ and the style, but they keep answering them emphatically at the moment.”
One man who was part of England’s success at home during the summer is Stuart Broad, recalled to the team along with fellow veteran seamer James Anderson after being controversially left out of the tour to the West Indies which would prove to be Joe Root’s final series as captain.
Broad featured in all seven of the summer’s Tests against New Zealand, India and South Africa, and explained how Broad and former New Zealand captain McCullum have gone about changing England’s approach to the game’s longest format.
“He inspires you,” Broad told Sky Sports about Stokes. “He’s the sort of guy you want to follow onto the pitch just by how he carries himself and the style he plays, but you know his messaging is authentic to what he believes and how he wants the game playing.
“If you play in that style, he’ll back you, and he’s very clear of how he wants the game to move forward and that winning comes from playing positively.
“Baz [McCullum] saying he doesn’t do much – I’ve not seen him throw many balls or talk technically to anybody, but you watch every training session he walks around and speaks to every player, seeing how they are, what their mindset is like and making sure they’re taking those options which are right for the team.
“He’s an incredible man-manager and I know he said Stokes is, but Baz through his captaincy career learnt a lot and brought that into his coaching.”
England’s approach to being aggressive both with the bat and while in the field has drawn wide praise, being hailed in some quarters as revolutionising the way Test cricket is played.
Former England captain Michael Atherton is not convinced other sides will simply be able to copy that way of playing, although he does expect there will be some shift in how the rest of the world goes about the red-ball format.
“There is no question other teams have taken note, the more interesting question is whether other teams will get sucked into trying to copy England,” Atherton told Sky Sports.
“My own view is as a captain, you try to work out what your resources are and the best way to win a game. Other teams may not have the kind of gung-ho batsmen England have and may not be able to replicate that kind of approach.
“Whether other teams will get sucked in remains to be seen, but certainly the days of England and others playing really attritional, dead cricket are gone – and people will probably say thank goodness for that!”
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