top of page
Search
  • Writer's picturestrie4

WHITHER BAZBALL


Somehow, we all knew that Bazball one day would come a cropper. And India, with its unique conditions and challenges, would be the venue most likely to derail it. India is different to other cricketing countries; the pitches are different, the bowling attacks are different, the outfields are different, the crowds are different, the culture is different, the whole cricketing experience of touring on the sub-continent is different. I’ve heard cricketers refer it as ‘alien’ to anything else they have known, not meant unkindly or disdainfully but in the sense that the test of skill and temperament is unlike any other tour. You have to learn to adapt. It’s no use complaining about the food or the chaotic logistics (as we did on our schoolboy tour); that’s just the way it is. Embrace the adventure and learn how to play in these foreign conditions (sadly we did not and were the poorer for it, both as cricketers and human beings). I am not sure that jetting in from Abu Dhabi just before the first Test was the best preparation for the English players; nor was retiring back to their base in the UAE mid-tour to lick their wounds and improve their golf handicap a good idea either. Far from breaking camp for ‘rest and recuperation’, would it not have been better to stay and practise how to play on those pitches? Because batting and bowling in India is very different.

Patience is required in India. Patience at the interminable queue at Border Control. Patience to wait for the bus to take you to the hotel. Patience while stuck in chaotic traffic. Patience while waiting to order your food. Patience while you try to explain to the gateman that yes, you really are a member of the England team. Patience while you wait for the tea to arrive. And patience with a bat – or a ball – in your hand.

First, I must make it clear that I am not denigrating Bazball (or whatever you like to call it) per se. Like just about every other England supporter, I have thrilled to the attacking gusto with which the team have approached their cricket. I have no trouble with batsmen getting on the front foot and taking the fight to the enemy, nor do I decry setting attacking fields, looking for wickets rather than just attempting to contain. It has been a roller-coaster ride but my goodness, what fun! But that tactic, risky though it might be, only stands a chance of success if the pitches encourage the ball to come onto the bat, which by and large throughout the cricket-playing countries they do. But not in India.

To illustrate what I mean, let me take you back 38 years, to the successful England tour of India in 1976-77 under the captaincy of Tony Greig. I happen to believe that Greig was one of the better England captains. He was tall, blond and handsome, he exuded charisma and leadership, he accepted every challenge, and he never took a backward step. He was perceived as a swashbuckling, cavalier sort of cricketer; not for him the conservative, cautious, defensively minded approach to the game espoused by so many English players of that era (well, of course not, he was South African!). I think this characterisation does him a disservice. He was a canny cricketer with enough experience and savoir-faire to realise there is more than one way to skin a cat. He had been on tour with England in India before, in 1972-73, and he knew that to prevail on the sub-continent, you have to plan your strategy carefully and prepare meticulously for the examination to come. For a rigorous examination it will be, of temperament and technique; he knew you couldn’t just pitch up and hope for the best.

Firmly espousing the principle of horses for courses, he selected Roger Tolchard as a member of the touring party, ostensibly as a back-up to Alan Knott in the wicket-keeping department. At least that is what most people thought, trying to figure out the reasoning for what seemed like a selection out of left field. But Greig had other plans for Tolchard. He knew that Roger was a fine player of spin bowling, and that India possessed quite possibly the greatest quartet of spinners the world has ever seen, Bedi, Chandrasekhar, Prasanna and Venkataraghavan. (In point of fact, Tolchard was also a very good player of fast bowling – he was no one-trick pony. Versatile and adaptable would be more accurate definitions.)

The crunch, the tipping point, the moment of truth came in the second Test in Calcutta (England had won a famous victory, quite unexpectedly, in the first Test in Delhi – sound familiar?). Expect the unexpected, Greig told his troops, India will be smarting and come back at us strongly. In point of fact the riposte was anything but unexpected. When Greig inspected the wicket before play, he was outraged to see half-a-dozen groundsmen down on their hands and knees before the toss, scrubbing at the pitch with iron brushes. The surface was being scrubbed up for the Indian spinners. And so it proved. Bedi leapt in the air with joy when he won the toss. Whoever batted last on this minefield would surely lose.

Bob Willis was inspired when India batted, taking 5-27 with India subsiding to 155 all out. Now this is where cricketing common sense came into play. England’s plan was obvious; bat for as long as it takes. They didn’t want to have to bat last on a pitch which by then would resemble a minefield. But it did not seem likely that it would be very long at all. Greig joined the debutant Tolchard with four down and only 90 on the board. Together they put on a stand of 142 priceless runs that lasted four and a half hours. I asked Roger about this partnership. “We both knew that if either of us had got out, the Indian spinners would have run through the lot of us.” The contrast in styles between Greig and Tolchard could not have been more marked. Greig used his long reach to smother the spin and played the ball very late off the back foot with cuts and pulls if the bowlers dropped short. Tolchard would run down the pitch and nullify the spin by playing the ball on the half-volley or on the full, if he was quick enough (and believe me, he was very quick on his feet).

At last, Roger’s vigil came to an end, bowled Bedi for 67 (“Aaargh – played on!”). His innings had lasted 238 balls. Not very Bazball at all. Greig’s innings of 103 from 347 balls was even more heroic; he was battling a temperature higher than his score. In the innings, the spinners bowled 155 overs, the seamers only 23. So, you see that India is not quite like any other country. To cut a long story short, that partnership was pivotal to England securing the victory to take a 2-0 lead (they won the third too; there was no coming back from that) in a match they could so easily have lost, thus ceding the momentum in the series to their opponents.

The point is that England found a way to win, not pretty but battling the heat, the 80,000 crowd, the scarified pitch and the best spinners in the world, with predatory fielders crowding the bat, is never pretty. They assessed the situation. They adapted to the conditions. They were flexible in their tactics. They played what was in front of them, not what they thought should be in front of them. This was no time for gung-ho heroics. The state of the game, the state of the series, demanded a different type of heroism altogether.

The frustrating thing about England’ s losses on the recent tour is that in the second, third and fourth Tests – but not the fifth; by then the wheels had come off beyond repair – they had chances to seize the initiative but in every crucial passage of play, the committed hari-kari. It just wasn’t very intelligent cricket they played. It smacked of arrogance, quite frankly. It’s our way or the highway, they seemed to be saying to themselves. As ever, in whatever level of cricket you are playing, you have to read the game and adapt accordingly.

Lest I be accused of advocating throwing the baby out with the bathwater, I should stress that there is much to admire about the captaincy of Ben Stokes. I like his positive attitude, his tactical tweaks and his loyalty to his men, who all seem to enjoy playing under him. His team take the field with a smile on their faces; he has invigorated English cricket. I just wish they would take on board that retrenchment in order to fight another day is not necessarily an expression of weakness. The Duke of Wellington had a reputation as a defensive general. Seeing that he was invariably out-numbered and out-gunned, he really had little choice. His strategy in the Peninsular War was to keep his army intact and in the field. In that way, Napoleon was forced to entrust several divisions – manpower that he sorely needed elsewhere – to chase Wellington around Spain and Portugal. “Victory is the ability to fight five minutes longer than your enemy,” Wellington confessed later. That is what Greig worked out in India. That is not what England worked out this winter. Sometimes, the dash and brio of a frontal charge by the cavalry is not the way to win a battle.

5 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comentarios


bottom of page