After an oh-so-close loss in the first Ashes Test, England is adamant about sticking with Bazball. (More Cricket News)
England has been defending its chancy policy since even before the match finished a week ago at Edgbaston, where tailenders Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon pushed Australia over the line in the final hour of the last day by two wickets.
The teams begin the second Test on Wednesday at Lord's. Conditions — grassy pitch and more cloud — are expected to be friendlier for bowlers than the road at Edgbaston. Yet, England will be taking the same no-fear approach.
"If anything, we need to double down on how we do it, completely back ourselves and make sure we get those one percenters right at Lord's,” England linchpin Joe Root said.
Coach Brendon (Baz) McCullum added, “The way that we played validated our style. You're not always going to win and we understand that, but we want to keep getting up and throwing punches as a team.”
The Bazball era began a year ago at Lord's against New Zealand. England successfully chased down consecutive targets of 277, 299 and 296 in that series. After winning one of its previous 17 Tests with a traditional approach, England playing Bazball under McCullum and captain Ben Stokes has won 12 of its last 18 tests, won four of six series and drawn the other two.
England is gung-ho to try and regain the Ashes after six years and attracting a lot of love. Record numbers were drawn to the local Sky TV broadcast and BBC radio feed. Even Rehan Ahmed, who became England's youngest Test cricketer at 18 last December, said the Edgbaston game was the first Ashes test he'd watched for all five days.
Joe Root, who captained England for 5 1/2 years, said if he could go back in time, he'd take the same approach as Stokes. “We're playing better cricket to watch and producing better results overall,” Root added.
But England's failure to dominate Australia when it had chances has prompted luminaries Geoff Boycott, Nasser Hussain and Mark Butcher to believe the team should prioritize winning over entertainment against its greatest rival.
Boycott wrote, “There are moments when you need to defend. Sometimes you need to be patient and accept it. Do not just attack, attack, attack. England need a bit of common sense and pragmatism.” Stokes wasn't discouraged.
“I'm not always going to make the right decision," he said. "If I always made the right decision it'd be pretty boring.” The captain said he's ready to bowl more on his recovering knee after taking two wickets in 14 overs at Edgbaston. England has chosen an all-seam attack by recalling rookie Josh Tongue after express pacer Mark Wood and frontline spinner Moeen Ali weren't considered fit enough.
Tongue made his Test debut only this month in the warmup against Ireland on a slow pitch at Lord's. He took 5-66 in the second innings of a 10-wicket win.
Root is set to be busier. His part-time off-breaks will give a rest to seamers James Anderson, Stuart Broad — the two highest wicket-takers at Lord's — Ollie Robinson and Tongue. Anderson, rusty after a groin injury, was scathing of the slow Edgbaston pitch and said, “If all the pitches are like that, I am done in the Ashes series.”
To no surprise, England stayed with Jonny Bairstow, whose wicketkeeping errors kept Australia in the contest. The biggest let-off was allowing an edge by Usman Khawaja on 5 to fly by in the second innings. Khawaja made 65 and the platform for captain Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon to produce an unbroken stand of 55 from a parlous position of 227-8.
Lyon, who also took eight wickets, needs five more wickets to reach 500 and become only the eighth man to the milestone.
Cummins will finalize the team on Wednesday. The choice is the same at Edgbaston; one pacer to leave out among Mitchell Starc, Scott Boland or Josh Hazlewood.
The world Test champions took their first shot of Bazball and prevailed even without any impact from their best batters, Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne, who combined for 35 runs. Cummins expects a big week from them at the home of cricket, where Australia often celebrates: 32 won or drawn Tests out of 39.
“We weren't at our best but still managed to get over the line,” Cummins said. “That is one of the most pleasing things.” But England's confidence was such that vice-captain Ollie Pope said, “If we did go down 2-0, we still believe we can win 3-2 this Ashes series, 100%.”