"I could also turn it around and say, 'if we didn't declare, would we have got the excitement that we did at the end of day five?' I'm not a
hundred percent sure, but I'm not going to be looking back on this game as 'what ifs'... the reality is, we just didn't manage to get over the
That's England's captain Ben Stokes at the post-match press conference, defending his decision to declare England's first innings at 393 for 8 on day one. Their two-wicket defeat to Australia in the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston has not gone down well with the English cricket fraternity and fans, who feel that the Bazball mindset adopted by the team is responsible for a disastrous start to the series.
For the uninitiated, the bazball playing style defines an aggressive and fearless brand of cricket, overturning the classic age-old approach to playing Test matches. It was the term coined during the 2022 English cricket season when Brendon McCullum (whose nickname is Baz) was appointed coach, and Ben Stokes made the England Test cricket captain. They have been responsible for this brand of Test cricket which has brought in huge dividends for the team.
It is natural that a single defeat is sufficient for purists to debunk bazball. They are still hopeful that Tests will survive in an era of T20 (and now T10 cricket) matches, and want to preserve the cliched battle between the bat and ball as engraved in their playbook.
What they ae forgetting is that even before the first bazball was bowled, the International Cricket Council, after years of brainstorming, came up with what is one more tournament, the World Test Championship (WTC). All built of hope that the Test-playing nations will strive hard for two years across continents to win a mace, and that will keep fans engrossed. It has only led to each country accumulating points on friendly pitches to play the Ultimate Test, the only match that matters in a long-drawn two-year cycle.
For the powers that control the game, the WTC might be the only answer to save the dying Test-match format. But they don't realise or are not willing to admit that bazball is what is required to keep the WTC alive. Exactly what Stokes meant when he said: 'if we didn't declare, would we have got the excitement that we did at the end of day five?'
This excitement is what will keep the format viable for all stakeholders, especially the fans. ICC is focused on the countries playing bilateral series amongst each other to attain the goal of participating in the Ultimate Test. What they are not realising is that when you have a two-year long tournament the journey becomes more important than the destination.
Every event in the journey acquires importance, and unless each participant in the journey adopts an innovative approach, nothing much will change. On the other hand, imagine each of the teams bringing in their own version of bazball. You would be creating contests every day between players. Think of the 'umbrella' field Stokes conjured up for the well-set Khwaja to engineer the latter's dismissal. Every session becomes a thrilling encounter between the two teams and players, not between bat and ball. The aggressiveness and fearlessness creates stories continuously and that is what will keep the fans juiced up and engaged; the key ingredients for rejuvenating Test matches.
Baz is the same McCullum from Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) who took the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) bowlers to the cleaners in the first-ever match of the Indian Premier League (IPL) smashing 158 runs off 73 deliveries. In that defining innings he sent the ball across the rope for 10 boundaries and over it for a mind-boggling 13 sixes. Baz single-handedly provided the impetus to change the fortunes of the league and BCCI. Similarly, bazball is his gift to Test cricket and the ICC. It's come at an appropriate time, in the right social environment, and luckily for us fans, it's here to stay!