Revealed - the key ingredients in a 'Bazball' run chase

·8 min read
Revealed - the key ingredients in a 'Bazball' run chase - ACTION IMAGES VIA REUTERS
Revealed - the key ingredients in a 'Bazball' run chase - ACTION IMAGES VIA REUTERS

The sensational start for England's red-ball revolution continues, with Brendon McCullum's Test-match entertainers chasing down a record 378 at a canter to beat India at Edgbaston.

That is now four matches played, four matches won for this newly-invigorated side - with all four victories coming with England batting last.

As Test cricket's newly-anointed kings of the fourth innings, Telegraph Sport analyses the key aspects of a 'Bazball' run chase.

Do not bash every ball

Amid the euphoria of watching the likes of Jonny Bairstow hit a third or fourth boundary off an over, it is easy enough to assume that ‘Bazball’ consists simply of whacking every delivery as hard as possible.

Such an assumption ignores the nuances involved, invariably brought about by the spot of bother England find themselves in by the time the ‘Bazballing’ can truly begin.

Prior to this victory over India, England’s opening pair of Alex Lees and Zak Crawley had barely made a dent in mammoth targets with stands of just 31, 12 and 17, forcing the middle-order strokeplayers to ease their way into their business. Indeed, England slumped to 69 for four, 93 for four and 51 for two in their three victorious run chases against New Zealand.

At the point Bairstow was joined by Ben Stokes in the second Test of that series, he had steadily accumulated 23 off 29 balls.

By tea (at which point England had progressed to 139 for four, chasing 299), his scoring rate had barely increased, reaching 43 off 48 balls. It was only after the break that he truly went berserk, obliterating everyone and everything in his path by smashing his next 44 balls for 93 runs.

Given the strength of the Indian bowling attack and the higher victory target facing them, Bairstow and Joe Root were understandably circumspect at the start of their innings at Edgbaston on Monday afternoon.

With England losing three wickets for just two runs before they came together, and Virat Kohli whipping the India supporters into a fervour, the Yorkshire duo noticeably reined in their attacking intent and consolidated, taking no more than five runs off any of the first seven overs of their partnership. Even then, after an eight-run over, they were content to take a total of five runs from their next four overs.

Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow constructed their partnership perfectly - GETTY IMAGES
Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow constructed their partnership perfectly - GETTY IMAGES

Dot balls piled up in a manner not associated with the new ultra-attacking outlook, but both batsmen were happy to play the situation.

“There’s been a lot of talk around the group about being positive, but there has [also] been conversations about recognising passages of play and moments in that game where you have to absorb a bit of pressure,” said Root.

“That was just one of them. They were all over us for a little bit. They were up. They were very much in the contest and they were letting us know about it. It was about trying to take the sting out of it for four or five overs.”

As the fourth day’s play faded and the scoring rate picked up, there was still little sign of previous blitzkriegs, with Bairstow and Root predominantly dealing in singles with total ease. Tuesday’s approach was similar, with boundaries tending to come courtesy of more conventional shots until a flamboyant flourish near the end.

Pick your targets

Poor Michael Bracewell. Picked as New Zealand’s sole spinning option in the second and third Tests, the off-spinner was given no chance to settle into any sort of groove on what should have been helpful day-four and five pitches due to England repeatedly targeting him.

In their successful Trent Bridge chase, Bracewell’s eight overs went for 60 runs. One match later at Headingley, his 15.2 overs yielded 109 runs.

At the other end of the scale, Trent Boult often escaped punishment. In a series that New Zealand’s bowlers will not look back fondly on, the left-armer took 16 wickets at a respectable (in this era of super-fast England scoring) economy rate of just 3.81.

Trent Boult avoided the worst of England's punishment - GETTY IMAGES
Trent Boult avoided the worst of England's punishment - GETTY IMAGES

He did receive some tap - notably from some monster Bairstow sixes in the second Test and during some poor overs at Headingley - but was often afforded respect not shown to some of his team-mates.

There were similar traits in the Edgbaston win over India. Few risks were taken against Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami, while Mohammed Siraj and Shardul Thakur were not allowed to find a groove at any point in England’s run chase.

The intent was there from the outset, with Lees skipping down the track and bashing Ravindra Jadeja’s first ball of the innings for four, on his way to taking 10 runs from the over.

The spinner ended with the best economy rate of the Indian bowlers, but England’s determination not to let him gain an early upper hand was evident.

Employ white-ball techniques

For a man with one of the finest orthodox batting techniques in world cricket, Root’s willingness to play all manner of new-era strokes this summer has been one of the hallmarks of ‘Bazball’.

In England’s one-day international side, Root has long been seen as the lynchpin to hold an innings together while the flamboyant strokemakers attempt to hit the leather off the ball. Now, there is seemingly nothing Root cannot do.

When he audaciously reverse-scooped Southee for a six in the third over of the fourth day’s play against New Zealand at Trent Bridge, there was widespread shock. By the time he did the same thing to Thakur at Edgbaston on Tuesday such ingenuity had become bizarrely commonplace.

Root and Bairstow’s ability to score runs in every area of the pitch on Monday afternoon left India captain Bumrah at a loss as to where to place his fielders.

It is perhaps the transformation of Lees that best displays the change in outlook of a ‘Bazball’ run chase, though. When he reverse-swept Jadeja for four in the first over of his spell on Monday, it was only the fifth time Lees had played the shot in his entire first-class career.

Having looked almost afraid to play an attacking stroke on his debut tour to the West Indies earlier this year, Lees came into this fifth India Test with a funereal international strike rate of just 36.96. Incredibly, he then hit England’s fourth-fastest half-century by an opener in Tests, coming off just 44 balls.

Alex Lees blasted a quickfire fifty in England's Edgbaston chase - GETTY IMAGES
Alex Lees blasted a quickfire fifty in England's Edgbaston chase - GETTY IMAGES

An attacking shot percentage that languished at 16 per cent in the West Indies is now up to 29 per cent this summer, with his leave percentage falling accordingly from 31 to 21 per cent, according to CricViz.

Courtesy of reverse-sweeps, upper cuts over the slip cordon and frequent forays down the pitch to both spinners and seamers, Lees showed that he - like most of his team-mates - is able to use 360-degree shotmaking.

Undaunted by numbers

That England have now chased down targets of 277, 299, 296 and a record 378 in their last four games is astonishing. But it is the manner of the approach and execution that make it even more remarkable.

There was a sense during the New Zealand series that it was only reaching winning scores that prevented Stokes’ side from plundering even higher totals. That the four victories have come by five, five, seven and seven wickets only adds to that thought.

Asked about England’s mindset at Edgbaston when tasked with what needed to be their highest ever successful run chase, Lees revealed the extent to which they are now entirely undaunted by numbers.

“We know the target is there but it’s almost in the background,” he said. “It’s not something we necessarily spoke about.”

With the benefit of vast T20 experience - and motivation from seeing the effect of Eoin Morgan’s work with the ODI team - the parameters have shifted unrecognisably for England’s Test team, allowing them to truly believe nothing is out of their reach.

“Whatever is set, is set,” said Bairstow on Sunday night at Edgbaston. “There’s no point looking at figures.

“Whatever is set, we’ll try and chase, rather than worrying about losing. You’re going to lose games of cricket… especially playing in the manner that we are.”

England know ‘Bazball’ will not always work, but currently - incredibly - it continues to make the improbable routinely achievable.

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