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What is Bazball? How England and Brendon McCullum revolutionised Test cricket

Stokes and McCullum have lifted England from rock-bottom to ‘rockstars’

Sonia Twigg
Friday 16 June 2023 10:43 BST
Stokes and McCullum have transformed England’s fortunes in the last 15 months
Stokes and McCullum have transformed England’s fortunes in the last 15 months (Getty Images)

Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes have neither ripped up the cricket rule book, nor invented a new shot, but they have transformed England’s fortunes from rock bottom to entertainers.

There has always been the old question: ‘How can you not know after almost five days, which side is winning?’ But in cricket’s oldest and longest format, that has often been the case. Until recently when England sought to eliminate one of the outcomes - the draw - from their approach to Test cricket, and re-brand themselves ‘rockstars’.

The result has been thrilling for everyone who has watched England over the past 15 months. The records have tumbled, the team’s fortunes have been transformed, and crowds left wanting more.

Sporting memory is often fleeting, but the dismal Ashes series in Australia 2021-22 will live long in the memory. The only silver lining was that due to covid restrictions, there were not many to witness it in person, but those who stayed up eagerly until midnight to watch the first ball will not easily forget seeing Mitchell Starc wheeling away celebrating after sending the ball careering into Rory Burns’ leg stump.

After just 12 days of cricket a year and a half ago, England had lost the Ashes. A defeat in the West Indies followed as they truly hit rock bottom, with just one win in 17 Tests. It was time for change.

Enter McCullum and Stokes with a desire to play an attractive brand of cricket in a bid to ‘save’ the game’s longest format, which has never been under threat as much as it is now – largely from T20 franchise leagues emerging in all corners of the world.

Few knew what to expect when England hosted New Zealand last June, but they were blown away with Jonny Bairstow’s onslaught at Trent Bridge one of the main highlights of the summer as did the first threat to the 120-year-old record for England’s fastest-ever Test century of the ‘Bazball’ era. South Africa were also blown away despite their vicious bowling attack, and next on the calendar was a return to Pakistan after 17 years.

Not even illness could hold England back as they smashed records at will. Over 500 runs were scored in the first day at Rawalpindi – the only way a result would be possible on one of the flattest pitches around – and the visitors clinched victory in the rapidly fading sunlight at the end of day five.

Australia took three games – dubbed the 15-day Test – on Pakistan’s pitches to secure victory but England departed Karachi just before Christmas with a 3-0 win that seemed inconceivable when they touched down in Islamabad almost a month before.

Stokes led England to a historic 3-0 win in Pakistan in the winter (Getty Images)

New Zealand have played five Tests against England in the new era, and won one. A thrilling one-run victory at Wellington, but even in defeat, Stokes’ team achieved something special.

By transforming their approach to both batting and bowling, England have manged to do the extraordinary. By focusing on taking wickets rather than worrying about economy rates, bowlers have found the freedom to express themselves, and capitalise on more attacking fielding placements.

Batting in Test cricket can often be attritional and slow. While England’s has occasionally veered on the side of ridiculous – such as Joe Root batting left-handed at Rawalpindi, or Jack Leach’s attempted reverse-sweep for a golden duck at Multan – no one can call it boring.

Ultimately it was not a secret recipe that remoulded the side but belief, two people at the helm with a single vision, and an entire team willing to buy into a unified philosophy.

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