Soon after England treated a target of 378 with a ruthlessness bordering on contempt, it became clear that their toughest challenge in the months ahead may be finding new ways to explain one of the most staggering turnarounds in all of sport.
On June 1, they had won one Test out of 17 and become, once again, the laughing stock of world cricket. Now, they have won four in a row against New Zealand and India, the two finalists in last summer’s World Test Championship.
And they have done it in a style that has mocked Test cricket’s prevailing wisdom, solemnly handed down the generations over 145 years on slabs of marble.
England treated their target of 378 against India with a ruthlessness bordering on contempt
Joe Root (left) and Jonny Bairstow (right) both hit centuries in another remarkable run chase
Of the many statistical gems to emerge from the revolution, one stands out: if you include successful run-chases of 295 or more, England now have three of the fastest five ever – and all took place in the last few weeks. They are rewriting history on the hoof.
Yet there is more to ‘Bazball’ than throwing the bat and chancing your arm – despite Ben Stokes’s dismissals against New Zealand at Headingley and against India at Edgbaston. England, it seems, are smart enough to recognise that.
When they suffered a mini-collapse on the fourth evening of this game, turning 107 without loss into 109 for three, the facile response would have been to thrash their way out of trouble. With Jasprit Bumrah bowling like a dream and Virat Kohli maniacally conducting the crowd, it could have ended in disaster.
Brendon McCullum has helped revolutionise the team, with ‘Bazball’ enthralling the masses
Instead, Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow decided to defuse things, as Root explained after England’s seven-wicket win.
‘They were all over us for a little bit and they were letting us know about it,’ he said. ‘It was about trying to take the sting out of it for four or five overs.
‘Then, when the moment came to put a bit of pressure back on, it was recognising it, taking it and being ruthless with it. It came up beautifully for us this game.’
As England go about transforming what feels possible, they are determined not to be pigeon-holed by outsiders desperate to make sense of the apparent madness.
Players are able to dip in and out of net sessions, and have been given time to live and breathe
Brendon McCullum, for instance, did not address the UK media until the end of the 3-0 win over his native New Zealand – partly because he didn’t want to steal the limelight, and partly, you suspect, because there is only so much he can say.
When the players are being encouraged to go for it, why get bogged down in theory? As others have said before him: never apologise and never explain. So far, no apology has been necessary.
McCullum’s approach extends to his attitude to practice and meetings. On a tour of New Zealand in early 2008, England’s then coach Peter Moores infuriated the senior players by insisting on a fitness session at the end of play. McCullum is at the other end of the spectrum.
Players can dip in and out of net sessions according to their individual needs, while the team now gathers later than previously before the start of games. It’s not just about empowering grown adults to make sensible decisions: it’s about giving them time to live and breathe.
Root deserves credit for appearing unthreatened by the success of the new laissez-faire style
It’s to the credit of Root, who had a more conventional style during his 64 Tests in charge, that he appears unthreatened by the instant success of the new laissez-faire mindset.
‘It’s a way of looking at the game slightly differently,’ he said. ‘And it is very relaxed, but sometimes that is exactly what you need in a pressurised environment like Test cricket.
‘The most important thing is you know what you need to go out and do as a team, and then you commit to it and throw everything into the game.’
Now playing a brand of cricket never thought possible, England are enjoying a purple patch
If it sounds simple, that’s because – by and large – it is. Whether England could play this way if Root or Bairstow were not enjoying the purplest patches of their careers is another matter.
But England would argue that is no coincidence. Freed from time-honoured tenets, they are playing a brand of cricket they never thought possible.
Part of the fun will be seeing how far they can go.