The third round goes from place-holder to match-maker


At an Asian Games table tennis event a long time ago, a Korean coach explained to me the importance of the third-ball attack. He broke it down like this: You serve, wait for the return and then attack it. It’s commonplace now. At the time, this strategy was innovative, and coaches joked about fourth-ball and fifth-ball attacks.

I remembered this in England where Bazball is the new mantra (you also hear ‘Benball’ sometimes – maybe skipper Stokes didn’t get enough credit) and the fans love it. The more cynical believe that the character of English cricket – safety first, risk aversion, look before jumping – is too deeply rooted and has been just successful enough to have it all thrown overboard now . Something must give, they say.

Return of the crowds

But it’s new (for England), it’s attractive, it may reduce the number of draws, and it’s starting to bring the crowds back. Soon, as other countries catch on, the strategy will shift from innovative to conventional. And this is where the strength of Bazball will be tested. How do you counteract your own tactics rejected by other teams?

Previously, when the West Indies under Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards and then Australia under Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting ruled the cricketing world, such tactics were known as “positive” cricket, or “play to win”. .

Sometimes it only took three days to pick up all 20 wickets to win after making a big total in between. The big teams have usually played Bazball-style cricket – Bradman’s Australia, for example. Nobody called him Bradzball or Lloydball or Waughball or anything.

Today’s audience prefers tactics to carry a label, perhaps for quick reference, perhaps because they seem concise. And maybe because there’s just enough ambiguity to incorporate well-established maneuvers into a newer approach. There’s nothing wrong with that, and if Brendon McCallum is destined to be remembered for ‘Bazball’ rather than his incredible strike at the top of the batting order, that’s how it goes. sometimes.

An important element in Bazball, however, is the third inning of the match (and thus my reminder of the third ball attack from another sport). New Zealand and India, who lost a total of four matches in England, missed their second set, the third of the game.

Serve England well

And with their own top batsmen in form, England consistently scored over 250 goals in the fourth to win. England’s “third inning attack” served them superbly. It will be interesting to see how England themselves play the third innings when they strike first, even assuming that the third innings attack could sometimes be the work of the bowlers.

Cricket has rarely recognized the third inning as decisive in a Test. The first, of course, because a good start is an important aspect of any game. The fourth, of course, since that’s where teams cling to a draw or play above themselves to win. The second set (of four) is usually like a return of serve – it can be the start of a discussion or end it decisively. But this third round has somehow become the least important, not much talked about, the one used simply to mark time. She was the fairy tale ugly sister who is cricket – but now she’s become the princess, all in golden slippers and a shiny crown.

Philosophers who liken cricket to life talk about how it gives a player a second chance. Failure can be followed by success. But, as England showed in the Edgbaston test against India, the reverse could prove to be just as true.

Success – India trailing by 132 in the first innings – could also be followed by failure. Sport being a zero-sum game, one team’s success is usually the opposition’s failure, but to ensure that whatever happens in the first two innings of the game, it’s the third that really matters is what Bazball explained. And it’s intriguing.

Early to draw conclusions

It is of course too early to draw conclusions. But England’s resurgence has been fascinating. In the previous twelve years, England’s strike rate in the fourth innings was 47. This summer, across four Tests, it was 75. They scored at 4.6 runs per over compared to 2.95 previously . Jonny Bairstow’s strike rate over four tests and four centuries was 100, which is remarkable.

Can a team endure this? Will England itself be able to do it in India or Australia? It does not matter. Perhaps Bazball’s biggest contribution could be a shift in focus. His stated goal is not just to win or lose, but to get more people into the game. And that’s not such a bad thing.

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