"We want fast, flat wickets. We want to go out there and score quickly. I'm smiling because I'm looking forward to it.”
In April, England’s revolutionary captain Ben Stokes said this on the much-awaited Ashes series. The message was clear: fast and flat wickets, we want to go out and score quickly. This isn’t Test cricket, and this isn’t textbook stuff, but when you have revolutionised the purest format of the game, nothing matters anymore.
But if you look closely, there is a big reason why England wanted such pitches and conditions. Bazball supports batting more aggressively, and bowler-friendly pitches might deter stroke-playing and create an uncomfortable situation for the batters.
England’s batting was a huge letdown before the Bazball era set foot. The tough conditions at home served as a timely warning that perhaps England’s growing youth faltered more than they succeeded, and hence the flat pitches became the eureka moment.
22 balls of hell at Edgbaston served as the biggest reminder of why Bazball needs flat pitches
Let me introduce the setting for you, after 41 balls, England treaded cautiously at 26/0. Then the expected unexpected happened, rain crashed the party.
But it didn’t just crash the Ashes party but also a bigger party: the Bazball party. The cloud clouded up, batting became incredibly tough, and the crowd went silent for the first time in the entire clash.
Ball 1: pitched up, driven by Zak Crawley, a dot.
Ball 2: Full and wide, Duckett steers for a single to deep point.
Ball 3: Length ball, angling in and Crawley punches it confidently for a dot.
Ball 4: Fullish yet again but this time beats the moving Crawley, Boland is doing his thing here.
Ball 5: The ball slants a long way back in and crashes into Crawley’s pads, height might be a concern.
Ball 6: A carbon copy of the delivery, and it has struck Crawley much fuller, but it might still be high, and the nerves are creeping in.
Ball 7: Length ball outside-off stump, and Crawley lets that one go, England are feeling the heat.
An over after the break, and England are already realising the value of batting time, something that goes against their now-ethics of entertainment.
Ball 8: Cummins steams in and zips one past Duckett’s outside edge, he’s lucky not to edge that.
Ball 9: Back of a length this time but right where Duckett likes to defend it.
Ball 10: Fullish but still in Duckett’s area of expertise as he nudges it dead on the on-side.
In the lead-up to the tenth delivery after the rain break, there is a change in the atmosphere, it has become grimmer and overcast, with the groundstaff waiting ready with their hover.
Ball 11: Wicket, length ball in the corridor, Duckett with a lazy push, perhaps one that he has had in his mind after the continuous dot ball and the moving ball. Cameron Green leaps and pulls a spectacular catch. Cummins has struck, the ploy has worked.
Ollie Pope walks out to bat, possibly in the worst batting conditions. Bazball has struck a dead end.
Ball 12: Full and angling down, Pope has the chance to get a boundary but misses that opportunity.
Ball 13: Length ball close to the off-stump, straightens just a touch, but Pope is solid in his defence.
Ball 14: Wicket, Boland angles one on the fourth stump, and the ball shapes away from Crawley, who leaves his bat hanging, and that’s a simple catch for Alex Carey. Boland has done it, Root is the big fish now.
Joe Root walks out to thunderous applause, the crowd sings the faithful, “Hey Root” as he walks to bat. There’s a certain nervous energy. But the camera pans out to the Australian fans, who are having a go at the Barmies. Fittingly, it is a session that Australia dominates till now.
Ball 15: Booming in-swinger, and that’s moved a village and has hit Root right on his pads. What a start.
Ball 16: Root shuffles outside off stump, and that’s another pearler from Boland, the shuffle saves Root and Australia don’t review it.
Ball 17: Back of a length, and easy for Root to dab it to backward point.
Ball 18: Shuffles yet again, Boland drags it further back, and Root caresses it back to the bowler
Ball 19: Strikes him on the pads, but the impact is well outside the off-stump, Root trudges on, and, this time steals a leg-bye.
Rains are in near vision, the players are well and truly aware of what’s around the corner. Australia continues to take the fullest advantage with Cummins on. The crowd are at their anxious best, perhaps for the second time in the entire Test.
Ball 20: Fuller and Root presses forward and hits it towards the cover fielder.
Ball 21: A little short, and Root goes for a booming drive, the Australians are confident, and Smith thinks there’s a definite edge. They go upstairs. Oh no, there’s nothing, it was a false alarm from Smith. Testing line and England are under the pump.
Ball 22: Length ball, and Root lets that one go.
Cummins is ready to deliver, but the umpires have asked him to stop. Ollie Pope is having a chat with Cummins as he walks away. England are lucky that the rain has come at the right time. It has interrupted what could have been a defining session of the Ashes.
England want out, but Cummins doesn’t want to leave.
He holds on. He looks at his teammates trudging away and doesn’t have a choice as he walks back disappointed.
. | 1 . . . . . | . . . W . . | W . . . . 1lb | . . .
Twenty minutes, 22 balls, two wickets, two runs.
It could have easily been titled when Bazball met the moving ball. Australia wanted those exact conditions for at least two hours.
And the result wasn’t too pretty. Bazball and flat-pitches are still a better love story than Twilight. But the big point here is it serves as a reminder of why England wanted flat pitches against a potent bowling unit such as Australia’s.
Twenty-two balls of hell that could well be etched in the history books a few years later.
All-rounder Kuldeep Yadav stars as India claim control in Ranchi
Foakes, Root go the perfect anti-Bazball route
Why Bairstow’s barren run is as problematic as Root’s slump
Zak Crawley: Fearless, brave, and a Baz-ball flagbearer
Bumrah, Kuldeep impress; Ashwin raises concern
Just an average Joe, Root
Death by Bazball
Ashes 2023 — where the word ‘clinical’ does not exist in either side’s dictionary
Joe remains Bazball's Root