Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum offer counties how-to guide to ‘Bazball’

Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum have given county coaches a how-to guide on their bold new approach to Test cricket as England look to spread the so-called “Bazball” revolution through the domestic game.

Stokes, the England Test captain, and McCullum, head coach, both spoke via Zoom during a pre-season summit of county head coaches and directors of cricket at the Football Association’s St George’s Park on Monday, outlining the ethos that underpinned last year’s remarkable resurgence and a run of nine wins in 10 Tests.

While the term “Bazball” was definitely not used – McCullum finds it reductive – the pair are said to have detailed how they have got their team to play positive red-ball cricket; to soak up pressure when required but also be brave enough to put it back on opponents at the earliest opportunity; to make taking wickets the sole aim in the field; and to strive chiefly for victory across the five days without considering the draw.

Stokes and McCullum have also changed perceptions about run chases and looked to alleviate the pressures of the more taxing longer format through selectorial loyalty, making more training sessions optional and encouraging greater off-field fun. They are also said to have used the meeting to again outline their loftier goal of reviving Test cricket around the world by making it a more entertaining spectacle for spectators.

England’s eye-popping run-rate of 4.7 in Test cricket since the start of last summer (and 5.5 during the recent clean sweep in Pakistan) is seen as a byproduct of the approach, not a stated aim; players are not being told to bat aggressively, rather they are empowered to let their talent come out through constant reinforcement and backing.

Rob Key, director of England men’s cricket, was keen to stress that the assembled county coaches were not being ordered to follow the national team’s template en masse, accepting that the sport’s myriad variables – pitches, weather and different playing resources within squads – will always see other approaches result.

Nevertheless, there is a hope that plenty of England’s ethos filters down. This push to enthuse domestic players about red-ball cricket also comes at a time when Twenty20 leagues are flooding the calendar and offering lucrative short-form careers; the recent Lions selection, for example, is said to have seen “four or five” players decline the upcoming tour of Sri Lanka due to overseas deals.

There is also a desire that despite the 6 April start to the season – and a 29 September finish – groundstaff produce flatter, harder pitches where possible, replicating international surfaces and forcing teams to get more creative when trying to set up victories.

Along with this, the England and Wales Cricket Board has also proposed that rounds nine and 10 of this year’s Championship are played with a Kookaburra ball in order to challenge bowlers and give them experience of the ball most commonly used overseas.

The two identified rounds of fixtures, starting on 25 June and 10 July respectively, feature all 18 first-class counties but come after the start of this summer’s Ashes, ensuring players are using the Dukes ball during the lead-up.

Using the Kookaburra ball during the English red-ball summer is one recommendation from last year’s High Performance Review that can be implemented without a vote, unlike the proposal to cut the number of County Championship matches from 14 down to 10 that was thwarted by stiff resistance from county memberships.

There remains a push from the ECB to reduce the overall volume of domestic men’s cricket, however, with talk that the T20 Blast could face a trim when a new structure for 2024 onwards is debated over the course of this summer.

One prominent county coach is said to have pushed back on this suggestion at the meeting, citing the apparent protected status of The Hundred and the contradiction of the tournament being a format not played at international level.

source: theguardian.com