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Death by Bazball

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Last updated on 20 Jul 2023 | 08:11 PM
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Death by Bazball

Every second spent on the field is torturous, every ball a nightmare and every over an endless time loop of torment

They could have experienced it at Edgbaston. They narrowly missed experiencing it at Lord’s. But on Day 2 at Old Trafford, they finally experienced it.

It’s taken a while, but four Tests into Ashes 2023, Australia finally know what ‘Death by Bazball’ feels like.

If Bazball is an emotion (and a vibe), then so is Death by Bazball. Except unlike Bazball, there’s nothing feel-good about it. All that exists is feel-bad. Every second spent on the field is torturous, every ball a nightmare and every over an endless time loop of torment.

To experience that for 41 overs can be brutal, as Australia learnt at Old Trafford on Thursday. Hell, those 41 overs must have felt like 4,100 minutes. 

The 41-over phase in question here happened between the 16th and 57th over of England’s first innings. The English batters, in this period, faced 246 balls. They ended up adding a total of 275 runs, batting at a rate of 6.70. 

For four hours, a world-class pace attack which consisted of a trio that had a combined 789 Test wickets was reduced to mere cannon fodder.

Death by Bazball is a lot of things. One such is getting pelted by a very unlikely candidate. 

In Pakistan’s case, it was Ollie “career strike rate 54.42” Pope smashing a 104-ball 108. In New Zealand’s case, it was Jamie “brother of Craig” Overton walking in at 55/6 and then bludgeoning a 136-ball 97. 

That way, Australia, on Thursday, were hammered by Moeen “no Test fifties in the past four years” Ali. 

As talented as Moeen is with the bat, this was not supposed to happen. Heading into the fourth Test, Moeen had averaged 15.66 across his previous 39 Test innings, his last fifty in England coming back in 2018 against India at The Oval.

England moved him to No.3 to protect Harry Brook because, all things considered, he was the most sacrificable wicket. 

‘If he clicks, great. If he doesn’t, it’s still okay. Not like he’s scoring tons down the order anyway lol.’

On Day 2, Moeen clicked. It was a) beautiful and b) the trigger for what unfolded in the manic second session. 

Moeen clicking was literally a trigger: after 13 overs, England were a conventional 44/1, going at just over 3 an over.  He then struck back-to-back boundaries in the 14th over off Cummins — the second being the first of many eyegasm-inducing cover drives he would go on to hit in the day — and that over seemed to awaken the beast inside. The hosts’ run rate did not drop below 3.75 after that.

Australia were far from ‘rattled’ when Moeen departed for 54 — the score was 130/2 at that point — but you could see that his knock clearly unsettled them and upset their plans. In Tennis terms, what Australia and everyone expected to be a regulation straight-set win turned into a needless five-set marathon. 

And that, in a way, set them up for what was about to come their way later: a triple-bagel from Zak Crawley.

***

Prior to this Ashes, Zak Crawley induced polarizing feelings like no other athlete did. 

One moment, he struck the most glorious cover drive in the world, on the up, and in that very moment you kinda tended to understand exactly why England were hell-bent on picking him. But then he nicked off to identical deliveries outside off about five times in a row and you felt he was out of his depth at the Test level. You convinced yourself that he averaged 30 at the first class level for a reason.

Across the first three Tests of this series, Crawley’s performance was actually really commendable (four 30+ scores in six innings). Sure, he did not set the stage alight. But almost every single time, he passed the eye test. Not once did he induce that polarizing feeling. 

Which is maybe why what he did on Thursday did not come as a surprise. If anything, it was one of those knocks that felt inevitable because of how assured he’d looked in the first three Tests.

Make no mistake, Crawley rode his luck. A lot. Since the start of 2022, there have been 43 150+ scores in Test cricket. In the list, only one knock has had a lower control percentage than Crawley’s 77.50% on Thursday.

There were outside edges that didn’t carry; inside edges that missed the stumps by a whisker; plenty of loose drives that did not find the fielder or catch the edge.

But you find these fortuitous moments in nearly every century. Some more than others, but ultimately, it’s about making the luck count. Crawley did that alright.

We talk about Death by Bazball but when it comes to Crawley, it’s Death by driving. 

Overpitch? He’ll drive you through the covers. Good length ball that doesn’t bounce? He’ll get on top of the bounce and drive the ball on the up, again through the covers. Full and straight? He’ll drive you down the ground. There is simply no respite. 

According to our database, 40.2% of Crawley’s runs on Day 1 (76/189) came through ‘drives’. That really is an obscenely high figure. 

It was when Crawley went on overdrive mode (literally) that Australia started getting rattled. Cummins started getting really impatient, changing the field every other ball. Likewise the bowlers started getting impatient too. And all this played right into Crawley’s hands. 

But for all the talk of Crawley’s driving, the one aspect of his batting that has really stood out in this Ashes is his ability to seamlessly work anything straight or even on a fourth-stump line through the on-side. 44% of Crawley’s runs on Day 2 came in the region between fine leg and mid-wicket. 

The many inside-edges inflated the figures, yes, but minus the one ball where Green nearly trapped him LBW — the decision was overturned after the on-field umpire gave Crawley out — the right-hander was close to flawless whilst deflecting balls through the leg-side. This frustrated Australia equally, because the bowlers had no margin for error whatsoever. 

For Australia, it was as much Death by Crawley as it was Death by Bazball because, let’s be honest, 189 off 182 on a track that is not an outright road is filthy. The last 159 of those runs came in just 129 balls.

Thanks to Crawley, Old Trafford basically witnessed Australia get dismantled in fast forward. 

And oh, Joe Root did Joe Root things as usual, so let’s not delve into his innings at all, shall we? 

Thursday was just another occasion where Joe proved he is the Root of Bazball.

***

Irrespective of whether the assault on Day 2 proves to be fatal, you can’t help but imagine that the events on Thursday are a serious psychological blow to the Aussies. It is one thing losing a close match, but days like this can eat your mind, body and soul. 

But this has been a long time coming. The 392/8 in the first innings at Edgbaston could have been a lot more. The 188/1 on Day 2 at Lord’s could — probably should — easily have turned into a day like Thursday. At several points across the first three Tests, the English batters let Australia off the hook but, for once, that was not the case. And the result was truly devastating.

More than everything, this second day has highlighted the importance of Nathan Lyon. This assault most likely does not happen if Lyon’s in the XI because a) he would have ensured to keep one end tight or b) even if he didn’t, he would have kept providing breakthroughs regularly like he did at Lord’s and Edgbaston.

We cannot say for sure whether Todd Murphy would have filled that void, but Lyon, at this point, does feel like an irreplaceable figure.

It’s up to Australia now to quickly introspect how and why they got rattled and lured into England’s trap, and respond with a better, more composed showing with the ball on Day 3.

The best they can hope for from here, you feel, is to bat well on Friday and hope for rain to wash out the last couple of days and help them retain the urn.

You can come prepared for Bazball all you want, but you’ll only know how painful Death by Bazball actually is once you experience it. 

Australia will hope that Thursday will prove to be their first and last taste of Death by Bazball.

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