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Bazball has been a joy to watch but now England must listen and learn: NASSER HUSSAIN on the changes Ben Stokes’ side have to make to bounce back from third-Test hammering by India


People will be cross at how meekly England surrendered in Sunday’s second innings, but this match was lost in the first. Make no mistake about that.

Sure, England got away with it in the first Test when they conceded a huge 190-run lead and turned things around on the back of excellent performances from Ollie Pope and Tom Hartley.

But on the Subcontinent, matches like that are the exception not the rule and if you get behind it’s very hard to catch up. The errors that cost England littered the front end of this huge defeat.

Joe Root dropped a catch offered by Rohit Sharma at 47 for three that would’ve put a completely different complexion on the game had it stuck.

England put down several chances, and poor fielding generally allowed India to post 445, but it would have been another story for Sarfaraz Khan on debut had he walked in with India four down on the first morning rather than in the evening at 237 for four.

People will be cross at how meekly England surrendered in Sunday’s second innings against India

Ben Duckett started England's downfall as a moment of confusion led to him being stumped

Ben Duckett started England’s downfall as a moment of confusion led to him being stumped

Mark Wood was the final wicket to go as India sealed a crucial victory over England

Mark Wood was the final wicket to go as India sealed a crucial victory over England

Another pivotal moment came with England 224 for two on the third morning when Root played that reverse sweep.

Now, I don’t have a problem with him playing that stroke, because it’s one he’s executed very effectively in the past.

But, when Ravichandran Ashwin is missing, When Ravindra Jadeja is being eased back into cricket by his captain. When Root’s nemesis of recent times in Jasprit Bumrah is playing his third Test in a row amid talk of needing a rest, I would question the timing of it.

Bazball is not attack, attack, attack. Occasionally, you must absorb pressure and this was a time to do so, forcing Bumrah into a second spell, making Jadeja bowl more and more. An opportunity for England to make India really miss Ashwin.

There were echoes of the second Ashes Test match at Lord’s last summer, when Nathan Lyon hobbled out for the series during the first innings and England messed up with their happy hooking, failing to beat half a dozen Australian fielders posted in the deep. Not smart cricket.

When the opposition have a bowler down, recognise the opportunity to grind out a score and boss the game.

Like here, England lost that match, and although they may deny this happened, I would now like them to do what I observed them doing six months ago and take their lead from their captain Stokes – someone who plays a situation better than any England cricketer I’ve known.

That’s a big call, but history tells you it’s correct. The only time Stokes didn’t play situations well was over a three-month period at the start of his captaincy tenure when he frequently ran down the pitch to play big shots, emphasising to his young team that they were changing their mindset.

Joe Root endured a difficult third Test with both bat and ball as India eased to victory

Joe Root endured a difficult third Test with both bat and ball as India eased to victory

England take their lead from captain Ben Stokes - someone who plays a situation better than any England cricketer I¿ve known

England take their lead from captain Ben Stokes – someone who plays a situation better than any England cricketer I’ve known

England supporters in Rajkot failed to let England's disappointing performance dampen their spirits

England supporters in Rajkot failed to let England’s disappointing performance dampen their spirits

But in the 2023 Ashes, starting with Stokes’ hundred in the second innings of that Lord’s loss, they tinkered with their tactics.

The hook shot was put away after the first innings at Headingley, they became smarter with the bat, reining themselves in, but not heading into their shell. Playing a more savvy version of Bazball, they still scored 592 runs at 5.5 an over in Manchester.

Such was the turnaround that it was Pat Cummins and Australia facing all the questions in the latter half of the series.

It will be harder to repeat that here. It’s one thing stopping an opponent’s momentum in a home series, and England’s record at home – even against Australia – is superb. In India it isn’t as good. But if they do want things to change, it can’t just be a matter of ‘this is the way we play, we aren’t questioning ourselves.’

They’ve had 18 months of incredible success and this isn’t the time to move away from their philosophy. It’s a time for introspection. It’s a time for the basics – taking your catches, making big scores in first innings. That is how India have found themselves 2-1 up, with two to play.

England have had 18 months of incredible success and this isn't the time to move away from their philosophy

England have had 18 months of incredible success and this isn’t the time to move away from their philosophy

India players celebrate taking a 2-1 series lead over England after producing a dominant showing

India players celebrate taking a 2-1 series lead over England after producing a dominant showing

In the second Test, a double hundred from Yashasvi Jaiswal set the tone. In Rajkot this week, it was hundreds from Rohit and Jadeja.

So instead of England players saying how great it is that Jaiswal has been looking to emulate them, note what he’s actually doing.

Yes, he is attacking, smashing sixes for fun, but crucially playing the situation. When he began second innings on Saturday, he just played normal Test match cricket, and then when he reckoned it was his time to pounce, went absolutely ballistic. It was switched-on cricket.

Rehan Ahmed recently said: ‘I don’t like bowling maidens. I think that’s just boring.’

It reminded me of Brendon McCullum’s quote about Zak Crawley, that his game was not suited to being consistent.

Well, actually, that’s the level Crawley has got to get to, and he has been getting to, over the past 12 months.

Ahmed is a teenager who was answering questions in a press conference, but he must realise it is his job to become more consistent in bowling length.

Rehan Ahmed (right) is an upcoming youngster but must realise it is his job to become more consistent in bowling length

Rehan Ahmed (right) is an upcoming youngster but must realise it is his job to become more consistent in bowling length

The disparity in the England spin bowlers and their India counterparts – whose extra experience make it a bit of an unfair comparison – is variation in control. In the first Test match, where the ball spun big this control of length was less important than in the last two which have been played on flatter surfaces. When it was crucial, England’s spinners were exposed.

If England don’t consider tweaks, Bazball just becomes a cult that can’t be questioned.

I am not asking them to alter their mantra, just to review the last couple of matches and ask themselves: how can we improve?

Crawley reached 70 twice in Visakhapatnam, but will be looking back after a poor return here wishing he’d turned one of those into a 150 as Jaiswal has done.

Compare the consistency of Hartley to that of Jadeja, his rival left-arm finger spinner.

Joe Root was relied upon to provide spin against India after Jack Leach's series-ending injury

Joe Root was relied upon to provide spin against India after Jack Leach’s series-ending injury

India captain Rohit Sharma was dropped on 43 before going on to record a 131 score in the first innings

India captain Rohit Sharma was dropped on 43 before going on to record a 131 score in the first innings

Ahmed has a little bit more license as a wrist spinner, but even then, compare his control with that of Kuldeep Yadav. For me, it’s not good enough to say ‘I don’t bowl maidens.’ Yes, he is selected as a wicket-taker, but you can take wickets by being consistent as well.

Retain the McCullum-Stokes philosophy, because it has been a joy to watch, but learn from your mistakes.

Social media is full of comments rubbishing Bazball after this four-day defeat. On the second evening, when England closed on 207 for two, no one was questioning it.

That was the time to be smart. To be ruthless. They weren’t. If you are neither of those things in India, you will come unstuck.



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