England’s style is a sea change in Test cricket so will others follow the tide? – The Guardian

‘Bazball’ has delivered three straight Test series wins, but the real question now is whether other teams will copy or counter it
You might have missed the sign in the window of Australia’s dressing room during the recent second Test against the West Indies in Adelaide. Someone had scrawled “Ron Ball” on a piece of paper and propped it up against the glass, a little dig at England and all the attention they’ve been getting, by way of tribute to Australia’s own coach, Andrew “Ronnie” McDonald.
So the Australians are sceptical about the way England are playing. You wouldn’t expect anything else. “If it comes off, it comes off,” David Warner said back in August, “That’s their brand of cricket. But from our point of view, we’ll be playing Ron Ball.”
Which fits. First they laugh at you. “When we saw the New Zealand series, we realised that every one of our bowlers bowls 140kph plus and New Zealand didn’t have that,” said Mohammad Siraj after England beat New Zealand in June, and shortly before they peeled off 378 in the fourth innings to beat India at Edgbaston.
“Let’s see them do that against our bowlers,” said Rassie van der Dussen a few weeks later, before South Africa went down to a 2-1 series loss, beaten by an innings in one defeat and nine wickets in the other. “It’s risky” to play that way in Pakistan, warned Shan Masood right before England won the first two Tests.
Which is about where Australia are at with it now, six months out from the Ashes. “If you’re on a wicket that’s got some grass and Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc are rolling in at you, is it going to be the same?” said Steve Smith when asked about it earlier in the year. Well the intent will be, given the way Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes are leading this team, as for the effect, like Smith says: “We’ll see what happens.”
Before that, England’s next test, beyond the third match in Pakistan, will be the two-Test series in New Zealand that starts in February. It will be the first time England have had a second round against a side they have already beaten playing this way. New Zealand will have had eight months to think about how they are going to handle it in their own conditions and whether they want to take England on at their own game.
Since Stokes and McCullum took over in April, England have been scoring at 4.77 runs every six balls. In the past 145 years of Test cricket, there have been five when England have scored their runs at more than 3.5 every six balls and their peak was 3.81 in 2011. Just as important, they have taken 20 wickets in eight of nine Tests. If New Zealand do try to match them, it would be a sign this really might be a sea change in the game, in the same sort of way that Sri Lanka’s radically aggressive batting altered 50-over cricket in the mid-1990s.
Those turning points don’t happen too often in Test cricket. Other sides have made leaps forward before, but it doesn’t necessarily go that everyone else follows. After England concocted Bodyline in Australia in 1932, West Indies used it against them at home the following summer and then it was swiftly legislated out of the game.
In 1907, South Africa brought a quartet of new-fangled googly bowlers on tour to England. One of them, Reggie Schwarz, had learned the delivery from the Englishman who invented it, Bernard Bosanquet, and then passed it on to his teammates. Bosanquet had, by that point, pretty much given it up, but the South Africans used it to devastating effect. They took 376 wickets between them in the tour games, at an average of 14, and 40 wickets at 21 in the Tests (“Had their batting been of the same calibre,” said Wisden, “England might well have come off second best.” It wasn’t, and they didn’t).
That change was mirrored by West Indies’ decision to arm themselves with four quicks almost 70 years later after they had been beaten up, and bounced out, on tour in Australia in 1975-76. Those transformations worked because the teams had the playing resources to do it, in the same way England have because of a glut of attacking batsmen to pick from. There was no sense trying to copy West Indies if you only had a battery of 80mph seam bowlers to call on, but the rise of T20 cricket means there are plenty of sides who could match England’s attacking batting if they wanted to.
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The best comparison might be with the advances Australia made under Steve Waugh in the early 2000s, when they pressed run rates up above four an over. That really did change expectations about the way the game could be played and run rates picked up right across Test cricket.
But there was nothing reckless about Waugh’s Australia, who were already the best team in the world and looking for ways to get better. They batted quickly, but did it in a way that seemed to minimise the risks involved. This England, on the other hand, are doing it because they had been beaten so often playing the old way they had nothing left to lose by trying something new.
It feels as though England are opening the game up for the opposition, whereas Australia were closing it down. The tempo of England’s batting means there is more time in the game for both teams to work with and a smart opposition could use it to bat them right out of contention.
There have been plenty of occasions when a more ruthless side could have beaten them by pressing on to bigger totals in the third innings. New Zealand had that chance at Trent Bridge, so did India at Edgbaston, but neither used it. It is going to be fascinating finding out whether and how teams meet the challenge.


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