England’s Bazballers need to address these areas to get to the next level

Ben Stokes may have to recalibrate England’s strategy – Getty Images/Gareth Copley

Competing with Australia and India, England failed to beat the two best teams in the world and to get to the next level they need to “smooth off the rough edges”, as Brendon McCullum admitted after the defeat in Ranchi.

“I haven’t thought that far ahead,” said McCullum when asked about the next Ashes series in 18 months. England are scheduled to play 18 Tests between the start of next summer and a tour of Australia in late 2025, and it is plenty of time to examine and rectify weaknesses.


Stokes was somewhat bewildered when asked if his team needed to be more ruthless. He sees it as a post-factual concept. But McCullum was more observant. He knows his team needs to do a better job of recognizing when to pressure opponents, after all, that’s a core ethos of Bazball.

In all but one of their six losses they were in the game. Moments like Nathan Lyon limping off at Lord’s, Ravi Ashwin suddenly disappearing during the Rajkot Test and Jasprit Bumrah not playing in Ranchi were all missed opportunities. In Wellington, England forced the follow-on, which was New Zealand’s only chance to come back, and they did so by winning by one point. In Vizag, England were blown away by Bumrah’s nine wickets but they opened the door at 114 for one after restricting India to less than 400 by batting first on a good delivery when Zak Crawley hit a ball in the air off Axar Patel. Bumrah came back and blew away Root and Pope in two overs.

“Times in games where we haven’t quite adjusted our method yet,” McCullum said. “Sometimes we get a little out of touch with what needs to be done at the moment. Whether that concerns dealing with pressure, adapting our games to the circumstances, being able to absorb pressure, applying pressure. Different aspects for me.

“The skills component can become busy because we want too much of it or because we have too much noise in our minds. We have to find a way to be fully present when those moments happen, identify the crucial moments in a game and try to strip away all the other extraneous things, make a decision and make it work in the moment. If we do that, I think we will see this team go to the next level.”

Get the best from Root

Twice Stokes declared on Root when he had a hundred – the Edgbaston Ashes Test and in Wellington, both narrow defeats. He has scored six hundreds in the Bazball era, five of which are unbeaten. He has had more centuries under McCullum-Stokes than the rest of his career combined. Two were in pursuit so that is inevitable but apart from the two statements he was also left behind in Ranchi at 122 as Bashir and Anderson did not give him support. It was wasteful and expensive. Another twenty runs could have made the difference. Bashir hit one in the air; in the second innings he batted defensively for 12 overs with Ben Foakes. It’s hard to criticize a 20-year-old, but had he put his head down in the first innings as he did in the second, Root might have hit a few more.

Joe Root acknowledges crowd needs to address these areas after scoring 100 in Fourth Test in Ranchi/England's Bazballers to move to the next levelJoe Root acknowledges crowd needs to address these areas after scoring 100 in Fourth Test in Ranchi/England's Bazballers to move to the next level

Joe Root was stranded three times during the Test series in India – Getty Images/Gareth Copley

Settle the conservation debate

Will Foakes or Bairstow play in the next Ashes series? Bairstow will be 37 by then. He is a hitter with a lot of impact, but also a goalie who dropped important catches last summer. Foakes is an impeccable goalkeeper who hits in one gear. He scored 12 runs in 12 overs with a spread pitch in Ranchi when he had Bashir at the other end. Foakes is an ideal sleeping partner when batting with a specialist batsman – he put on 112 with Pope and 113 with Root in this series. The ideal for England is a goalkeeper who is a mix of the two: a batsman with an average of 36-38 who does not miss many opportunities. Not easy to find.

Ollie Robinson, from Durham, is loved by England and has had a decent Lions tour recently. There’s Jamie Smith at Surrey, a good batsman but he can’t last because of Foakes, and James Rew at Somerset, who needs more time to develop.

Find a new Broad

This is less about Broad’s bowling, more about the competitive edge he brought to it. He would have enjoyed the scrap in Ranchi, compare that to the indifferent impression given by Robinson, who really squandered his chance to prove he could be Broad’s successor. When England were flat in the Oval Test, Broad turned Labuschagne’s bail, and at Lord he was ready to line up alongside Stokes after the Bairstow defeat.

When asked about the next Ashes, McCullum identified three areas. “A strong bowling line-up, some really good spinners and a batting group that is still 18 months away from what we have seen now, then we give ourselves every opportunity.”

Matt Potts has had a good Lions tour, is agile and athletic in the field and deserves another chance. Josh Tongue breathed fire in his only Ashes Test and England should look to Gus Atkinson in Dharamsala to find out if he can be a Test cricket candidate. None seem to have Broad’s prickliness, and that’s a problem.

Ollie Robinson bowls in the nets for the England Bazballers and needs to tackle these areas to get to the next levelOllie Robinson bowls in the nets for the England Bazballers and needs to tackle these areas to get to the next level

Ollie Robinson didn’t take his chance to impress in Ranchi – Getty Images/Stu Forster

We are located at No. 1 spinner

England left for India with one spinner in Jack Leach, but will end up with four (including Leach) who can claim candidates for the home summer. Will Leach be an Ashes candidate? Unlikely after his mauling a few years ago. Bashir, like Lyon, bounces but doesn’t fly or turn the ball much, so Australia will come at him and try to knock him off his length. However, he seems to have the character for Test cricket. Hartley can bat, but left-armers suffer more than off-spinners in Australia. Wrist spin is effective on those pitches but Rehan Ahmed is still a long way from the finished article and how much cricket will any of them play next summer? They all need time to develop their skills, bowl around the wicket and settle in for long spells. Some more turning pitches would help in county cricket and even in some Lions matches against decent opposition. One that Rob Key must solve. Good luck.

Empathy with an edge

One of Stokes’ best captain skills is using the carrot instead of the stick. He hated rigid authority figures telling him what to do, and both captain and coach believe in giving players individual responsibility. Empathy is important to Stokes, but alone it’s not enough, says Mike Brearley.

“Empathy must be combined with a willingness to confront. It starts with empathy to get to that point,” he said last year. Stokes is at that stage now. We have seen him delay bowling changes so that a young player can get a morale-boosting first or fifth wicket. He burned reviews in Hyderabad in desperation to give Hartley a breakthrough when he was panned and he gave Robinson the first overs on the third morning in Ranchi ahead of Anderson when he was not there, possibly to get more out of him.

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