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Notes for Bazball: keep scoring quickly, bat first & be wary of the sweep

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Last updated on 23 Jan 2024 | 05:32 PM
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Notes for Bazball: keep scoring quickly, bat first & be wary of the sweep

Batting for time has become a difficult feat in India, and this is where England's aggressive approach comes in handy

Beating India in a home Test series has recently become an impossible feat. Imagine this: before the start of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2023, Australian players stated that a series win in India would be bigger than an Ashes series win. 

In one of the videos with cricket.com.au, Steve Smith and David Warner said, "India is a difficult place to win a Test match, let alone a series. So if we can do that, it would be huge. I think if you win in India, it is bigger than an Ashes series." Warner added, "Being a part of the last Ashes was fantastic, but to go to India and beat India in India is the toughest challenge in Test cricket for us." 

Further, prior to the start, Aussie skipper Pat Cummins said, "Winning a series in India is like an Ashes away series but even more rare. It will be a career highlight, an era-defining series if we win out there."

These are words from players who drew an away Ashes series and won the World Test Championship (after 2023 BGT). That's how rare a feat it is to beat India in a home series. 

In home Tests in the last 14 years, since 2010, India have lost only six matches out of 62. The only outlier in these 14 years was England beating India in 2012. India have played 22 home Test series since 2010, winning 20, losing one, and drawing against South Africa in 2010. In this time frame, India have won 73% of their home matches (out of 62), the most by any team. 

The England of the old is long gone. Since Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes took control, England have been a force to be reckoned with. The ultimate Test of Bazball awaits in India. They whitewashed Pakistan in their backyard, but the surfaces in that series were placid. However, that won't be the case in India. 

Still, England's new approach can cause harm to India. India might be unbeatable at home, but if there is a template to beat them, England's fast-paced innings progression is something that can help them achieve the rare feat. 

England's fast-scoring method could pose India an unprecedented challenge

In Tests since 2019 in India, the visiting teams have batted an average of 83 overs in the first innings, and have scored an average of 230 runs in those 83 overs.

Since the advent of Bazball (Jun 2022), England, in the first innings, have scored at a run rate of 4.9, the highest among all sides. Assuming England bat at the same pace while lasting the average number of overs (83 overs), they will score nearly 407 runs. Hence, England could possibly end up scoring 177 runs more than the average first innings total posted by other visiting sides. 

On the other hand, India, during the same time, have scored 380 runs on average in their first innings, lasting 107 overs. This is where England's method of batting can hamper India's chances. They will score more runs than India if they bat anywhere close to 80 overs at their average run-rate. In fact, England's superior run rate will see them score more than India if they bat close to as many overs as the hosts.  

The same goes in the second innings. Opposition teams find it more and more difficult to bat in India as the game goes on. Hence, the visiting teams have scored only 156 runs on average in the second innings while lasting around 54 overs. 

With a run rate of 4.7 in the second innings since the start of June 2022, England can outscore the average second innings total of the visitors (since 2019) if they bat 35 overs. 

However, there lies a challenge for England in the second innings. On average, India have scored 237 runs whenever they've batted 10+ overs in the second innings of a home Test. England will have to bat at least 50 overs to match India, even with their run rate.  

Hence, England's first innings could prove to be a game-changer. 

Going from ball one will be key

The reason behind England's high run-rate is their continuous attack. They go after the opposition bowlers from ball one. 

The first 20 overs of the innings is a stage where batters take their time and settle into their innings. But the Bazball approach states otherwise. They have lost wickets at this stage but haven't let go of their attacking approach. 

While their batters have scored at a run rate of 4.6 with an attack percentage of 33.4%, they have lost a wicket every 49.4 balls. Their run- rate and attack percentage are the highest, and their ball/wicket is the worst after South Africa (39.9). 

It is just not the first 20 overs. In every 20-over phase, the run rate keeps on increasing till the 61-80 phase. Because of their intent, the field is a bit more open, and easy singles are on offer. This is why their dot ball percentage is also on the lower side in each of the 20-over phases. 

In the sub-continent, where batting is usually relatively easier against a newish ball, it'll be imperative for England to take charge early and put the Indian bowlers on the back foot.

The template of chasing might not work in India - flexibility will be the need of the hour

Since Stokes has become the full-time captain of England in Tests (June 2022), England have won the toss in 10 matches and have chosen to bowl in seven. However, though they have won five (lost and drawn once) of the seven matches in which they've opted to bowl, their template of chasing might not work in India. 

In Tests since 2019 in India, only once in 19 matches has a team chosen to field first (West Indies against Afghanistan in 2019 in Lucknow). There's a reason behind it: India is an extremely tough place to chase. You have to go all the way back to 2013 for the last instance of a team chasing more than 150 in the fourth innings. Since 2019, four games in India have been won in the fourth innings. 

That being said, England have shown flexibility with respect to conditions, in terms of decision making. In the two away Tests against Pakistan (in which they won the toss), England chose to bat first and won both. 

Sweep at your own peril

Many England batters, especially Joe Root and Ben Duckett, rely on sweep shots (all kinds) against the spinners in Tests.

Since June 2022, Duckett (47.9%) and Root (40.6%) have scored over 40% of their run against spinners via sweep. Those are the highest and second-highest among England batters who have played 10+ sweep shots from the current squad. Apart from Ollie Pope, every other batter from this category has scored over 25% of their runs through the sweep. 

While sweep is a go-to shot in sub-continent conditions, that will likely not work against India's spin trio. 

In home Tests since 2019, Axar Patel has picked up a wicket every nine runs, Ravindra Jadeja every 15.3 runs, and Ravichandran Ashwin every 16.2 runs when the batters have attempted sweep shots. All three spinners have a bowling strike-rate of less than 12. 

As far as the bowling plan goes, read this article written by Shubh Aggarwal, who points out India's top batters' weaknesses.  

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Bazball is a philosophy that doesn't believe in batting time. Such an approach might not work on classic subcontinent tracks, but on rank turners in which batting becomes a lottery, England's intent-filled approach could just prove to be the perfect formula to achieve the impossible. 

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