England to stick with ‘Bazball’ despite agonising Australia loss

Birmingham (AFP): Is it possible to play reduced-risk ‘Bazball’, or is that missing the point of England’s pioneering, aggressive approach to Test cricket?

Ben Stokes’s team are licking their wounds after losing to Australia by two wickets in a dramatic Ashes opener at Edgbaston on Tuesday.

There was a time when beating arch-rivals Australia was the be-all and end-all for an England cricketer.

But captain Stokes is acutely aware of the need to provide an entertaining spectacle in the five-day format — both for players and fans — in light of the growing threat from cash-rich Twenty20 franchise leagues.

Australia captain Pat Cummins led the Ashes-holders to a remarkable win with an unbeaten 44, sharing a match-winning stand of 55 with fellow tailender Nathan Lyon.

But their success came after Stokes had made a shock declaration before stumps on the first day at 393-8, with star batsman Joe Root unbeaten on 118.

It would have been a bold move against most sides but particularly so against the recently crowned world Test champions.

This, however, was just England’s third defeat in 14 Tests since Stokes joined forces with coach Brendon McCullum in a bid to revive their fortunes in red-ball cricket.

‘Losing sucks’

Stokes has insisted England are not a “results-driven” team but it would have come as a relief to hardcore England fans when he said after Tuesday’s thrilling finale: “Losing sucks.”

“We’re desperately upset for them (our supporters) that they didn’t manage to see England get over the line,” he said.

“If people haven’t been on the edge of their seat for this entire Test match, or any situation the game found itself, in particular the last hour, I’m not quite sure what will in cricket.”

Had England, who have not won an Ashes series since 2015, taken all their chances in the field, the result might have been different.

And the game could have gone England’s way had Stokes taken the new ball as soon as part-time spinner Root had snared Alex Carey.

Those factors are not related to Bazball, although arguably both Root and Harry Brook got carried away in England’s second innings, taking unnecessary risks against off-spinner Lyon when well set.

“Is their style of play going to hold up in an Ashes series? Do they keep going, or do they declare at 393 on day one?,” former Australia captain Ricky Ponting asked on Sky Sports.

“By no means am I saying England’s methods are wrong. I have loved watching them play. But it goes to show that there is more than one way to skin a cat. This is a long game, and Australia’s method has stood up and worked.”

Australia completed their highest run chase since beat they South Africa at Johannesburg in 2011, as Cummins produced heroics with the bat to go with his fine bowling.

The visitors will be concerned over the form of batsmen Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith, both twice out cheaply in Birmingham, ahead of next week’s second Test at Lord’s.

But there is no compelling reason why Australia should abandon the traditional style of cricket as they go in search of a first Ashes series win in England in 22 years.

“Win or lose we are pretty comfortable with how we go about it,” said Cummins.