As India set a target of 378 for England to win the Edgbaston Test, broadcaster Harsha Bhogle tweeted, "Most days, most conditions, if you have about 365 in the bank, you back yourself to win the game in the 4th innings. This England side is fearless but these runs should really be enough for India." Well, you couldn't disagree even though you knew that England came into this Test match with three consecutive 250-plus chases as the first-ever team in Tests.
England achieved that feat against New Zealand but this time they were up against India who had one of the best bowling attacks in the world if not the best. On top of that, they conceded a lead of 132 runs in the first innings and despite a superb hundred from Jonny Bairstow, England couldn't even score 300. England, prior to this Test match, had never chased this many runs in Tests. All the odds were in favour of the visitors except for one thing.
Ever since Brendon McCullum took over as the Test coach of England, there has been a lot of talk about Bazball. A term taken from McCullum's nickname, Bazball implies England's new and aggressive approach in the longest form of the game. A 378-run chase would have been almost unimaginable four months ago, but not anymore.
It all started in the second Test between England and New Zealand last month. In England's first innings in reply to New Zealand's 553, newly-appointed England skipper Ben Stokes came out and all of a sudden started smacking the ball. His 46 off 33 with six fours and two sixes pretty much gave an idea how Bazball is all about. The captain batted like the coach used to bat during his playing days. But it was only the trailer. The actual drama unfolded in the fourth innings.
England needed 160 off 38 overs in the final session to win. It was a tricky chase. Going for a win could have backfired. Four-an-over on a five-day pitch up against Boult and Southee didn't seem very easy. But what followed was otherworldly. Jonny Bairstow and Stokes didn't seem to think once about all that and just pummeled the helpless New Zealand bowlers. Bairstow smashed a hundred off 77 balls and his innings ended on 136 off just 92. With Stokes, he added 179 in 20.1 overs at a run rate of 8.87. England chased down 299 in 50 overs.
Bairstow was in business a few days later as well. A more-than-a-run-a-ball 162 and a 44-ball-71 in Headingley saw England get the better of New Zealand again. This time they chased down 296 in 54.2 overs.
England maintained a run rate of 4.54 in the three-match series against New Zealand, comfortably the highest by any team batting five or more times in a Test series.
Came the fifth 'rescheduled' Test against India and there were questions of whether the Bazball would have the same effect in this match. Of course, the India attack was way more balanced and well-equipped than that of New Zealand and when Jonny Bairstow was struggling at 13 off 63 in the first innings, many started to doubt the effectiveness of the Bazball.
But Bairstow then switched the Bazball mode on - probably a bit provoked by Virat Kohli's sledging - and scored 93 off the next 77 balls. But again, England saved the best for the fifth day. Much like the previous three Tests, it seemed like England were waiting for the fourth innings to show what they are capable of.
Who would've thought the pair of Alex Lees and Zak Crawley - whose batting averages have been hovering around the mid-20s - would put on 107 in 21.4 overs? They were always looking to score runs. Crawley played some crisp drives for his important - if not excellent - 46. Lees even brought out the reverse sweep, a shot he hardly plays in red-ball cricket. For England, it was a rare positive start but India suddenly came back into the match with three quick wickets.
After that, it was all Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow. Both have hit the purple patch in Test cricket and apart from a couple of occasions, they looked well in control. They took singles of even good balls and boundaries also came at regular intervals. Even Jasprit Bumrah, one of the world's very best, went for more than 4.5 runs per over. It never looked like they were chasing 378 against a world-class attack. The duo added an unbroken 269 in 52.3 overs at a run rate of 5.12. Root, this time, maintained a higher strike rate than Bairstow. On the fifth day, he skipped down the track and smashed pacer Shardul Thakur in a manner as if he was facing a spinner. In the same over, he reverse-ramped him for a maximum.
Root and Bairstow have six centuries each this year, the most for England in a calendar year. Root has been in prime form for a while now but as Sanjay Manjrekar pointed out on-air, Bairstow has made a huge difference. Since McCullum took over, Bairstow has hit four hundreds and a fifty in eight innings at an average of 102.3 and a strike rate of 100.2. It's safe to say that the Bazball has given a new lease of life to Bairstow's Test career.
No fear of failure. No negativity. Going for a win irrespective of the match situation. That's what the Bazball is all about. England may lose a lot of matches playing in this manner. "Whatever we're set, we'll try and chase," said Jonny Bairstow when England were staring down the barrel and they did exactly that. The Bazball is here to rule and change the way Test cricket is being played.