Powerhitters have never dominated more in the last 142 years of English batting, as they have done in the recent past under Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes.
Boundaries for breakfast in Rawalpindi
Sialkot-born fast bowler Mohammed Ali’s first class debut was a low-key affair. His team batted first. Lost all but six wickets before rain hit the ground and the game was abandoned. For the next fifteen years, Ali played only 20 more first-class games until he received a Test call up at the age of 32. But his international debut was anything but low-key.
England made 500 runs on the opening day. Four people got hundreds. In the fading light, their captain, Ben Stokes charged down the wicket to hit Ali for a six over long on. England preferred to bat with the cumulative intent required in four T20 innings rather than just playing three seasons of red-ball cricket.
A cultural shift in batting approach
The English cricketing culture has now manifested the word intent in their game. If winning the ODI and the T20 World Cup wasn’t enough, their approach to red-ball cricket is getting the better of most sides, as it did for Pakistan in the last Test series.
Ben Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum have both been honest with the idea of batting to entertain and fielding to win in all situations. Which is why they even made a sporty third innings declaration in that very game and won it on the last day.
Cricket in England till the 1960s was very much a combination of the rigidity and discipline of the professionals and the flair and passion of the amateurs. Flair is the essence of batting with intent. Thus, the same system that produced the grit of Sir Geoffrey Boycott has also allowed the belligerence of Liam Livingstone.
Defining principles governing ‘Bazzball’
This change in attitude in England’s white-ball batting post the 2015 ODI World Cup has been well documented. At the centre of which are two defining principles. The first one is to do with empowering the batter to go ahead and maximise the scoring. Although this has been fairly well adapted by most teams around the world. They have made the mistake of handing that licence out selectively.
The second half of the moral code of ‘Bazball’ is then left to the player. Who must then asses the situation and make positive decisions in the middle. This particular aspect of the game is something that needs to be self-coached. Since the inception of the Indian Premier League, even with having ten teams, the total number of sixes had never crossed the 750 mark.
In the 2022 edition, that number went to 1037. This illustrates the fact that batters in the modern era not necessarily hit sixes as a part of the overall gameplan but as an individual skill.
Training and the technique needed to tonk
This also shows up in their training schedule. Before the 1999 World Cup, Lance Klusener was the only player who did specific six-hitting drills. After the advent of T20 cricket till about 2016, the power-hitting drill became the concluding skill work for a batting session. In the recent past, teams have inculcated range-hitting into their normal batting practice. So, as if to tell the muscles in the body that hitting a six doesn’t necessarily need a specific situation.
England cricket, having adapted the above idea, has gone deeper into analysing the sports science behind hitting the ball further by looking into the data with respect to the speed of the bat and launch angles. Pick out any random modern English batter. Go to Youtube and pause the video seconds before he has hit a six. There are several peculiar movements which are common among them all.
At their static power position, there comes a point where the toe of their bat is facing the sky. This gives them a longer down swing angle, which generates a lot of power. Earlier this year, in March, Alex Lees batted for three hours in a Test match against West Indies and scored 30 runs. The following week, he stood at the crease for over two hours to make 31 runs.
Making Test cricket great again
After that tour, when England returned home to face the Kiwis, Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes allowed Lees the freedom to break out of the shell and score freely. Lees kept his bat up and immediately looked like a different player. His second fifty against India had eight boundaries and came off 43 deliveries. The same management then convinced Liam Livingstone to give up the big bucks in the Australian Big Bash League and picked him to play Test cricket in Pakistan.
Ollie Pope, who now bats at #3 for England in Test cricket, says he has lost the fear of getting out.
Harry Brook immediately made an impact in the whites. And James Anderson claims this is the happiest he has ever felt in an England side over the last two decades.
There is a flip side to this high intent of batting as a group and that is, there will be days when these batters will go too hard and get out. Although England seems to have made peace with it. In fact, in tougher conditions, Mccullum encourages his batters to go harder.
If that’s not the Bazzball effect in some ways, then what is?