England’s ‘Bazball’ faces toughest task yet in India series

The five-Test series begins Thursday (25) in Hyderabad

England bowler James Anderson in bowling action during the England Net Session at Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium ahead of the First Test Match against India on January 23, 2024 in Hyderabad, India. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Pramod Thomas

ENGLAND’s “Bazball” style of attacking cricket faces its biggest challenge yet when they play an India side who have not lost a home Test series in more than a decade.

The five-Test series begins Thursday (25) in Hyderabad, and although India will be without Virat Kohli for the first two matches because of personal reasons, they start as clear favourites.

But it was England who were the last team to beat India on home turf, when Alastair Cook’s team won a four-match series 2-1.

Monty Panesar, who was part of that team, said the tourists had nothing to fear in a series where spin is expected to play a huge part.

“England have got every chance of winning Test matches out there,” the former England spinner told talkSPORT.

“They’ve got to have a positive mindset. Ben Stokes himself, he’s got to think, ‘Can I make Bazball successful on turning pitches?’

“That’s obviously going to be his biggest challenge.”

Skipper Stokes and England prepared in Abu Dhabi instead of playing a tour match in India, which drew criticism in some quarters at home and raised fears England could be “undercooked”.

Underlining the scale of the task facing England, Panesar added: “If he wins in India he will probably be known as one of the greatest captains ever to captain England, and one of the greatest captains ever in Test cricket.”

India and England drew 2-2 in their last series meeting in England in 2021-22.

England coach Brendon McCullum has helped transform England’s red-ball fortunes since joining forces with Stokes in 2022, the pair taking over a team that had won just one of its previous 17 Tests.

England have since won 13 out of 18 Tests under the duo, playing an attacking brand of cricket dubbed “Bazball” in reference to former New Zealand captain McCullum’s nickname.

But there were the first murmurings of dissent towards the all-action approach in the 2-2 home Ashes draw with Australia last summer.

Veteran pace bowler James Anderson and senior batsman Joe Root are the only two surviving members of England’s last Test triumph in India.

The 41-year-old Anderson is 10 short of 700 Test wickets.

“Jimmy is superhuman. People have been anticipating he will retire for about seven years now and he keeps surprising people,” former teammate Steven Finn said.

“He didn’t have a fantastic summer last year, but knowing him as a character, he wouldn’t be doing this (touring India) unless he felt he could make a difference.”

Anderson will lead England’s bowling after the retirement of pace partner Stuart Broad following the Ashes, which were retained by Australia.

Jack Leach will be crucial to the tourists as their frontline spinner in a department that otherwise has two uncapped players including Tom Hartley and Shoaib Bashir.

Despite his advancing years, Root stands tall in a batting department that also boasts Jonny Bairstow, Stokes and Ollie Pope.

India recently drew a two-match Test series in South Africa, before a 3-0 Twenty20 International sweep of Afghanistan at home ahead of the T20 World Cup in June.

But they are a different proposition on the turning tracks at home.

Top players including skipper Rohit Sharma will switch back to Test mode in the matches, which will carry points for the World Test Championship.

India are second behind Australia in the championship table.

England languish in eighth and will need wins in the India series if they want to play the final at Lord’s next year.

With spin expected to be so important, India are banking on the experience of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. They have a combined Test wicket tally of 765.

On the batting front, Kohli’s absence for the first two matches will hurt India, but he is expected to return for the third Test.

Kohli averages 56 in Tests against England in India including three centuries.

The series will be an opportunity for up-and-coming players including Yashasvi Jaiswal and wicketkeeper-batsman K.S. Bharat to prove their mettle in the longer format.