‘Bazball’ May Have Reached The End Of The Beginning As Crawley And Brook Lead England’s New Generation
Stokes and co. will look to level the Ashes at Oval (Twitter)
Reflecting on Australia’s retention of the Ashes and looking ahead to the final Oval Test, Zak Crawley was in a distinctly upbeat mood.
"We're massively up for it,” he said, “And as Stokesy says, we're building as a team, this isn't the end just because it's the Ashes. It's very much the start, hopefully."
There was something Churchillian in his words, recalling the British wartime prime minister’s famous speech after the victory at El Alamein - “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning”.
We are perhaps at the end of the beginning for ‘Bazball’, given how England have learned to moderate their approach. Up against Australia, the canniest and most capable of opposition, the evidence is that single-minded attack and aggressive intent have now been tempered just enough by an ability to adapt to circumstances and opposition tactics without compromising principles.
At Edgbaston and Lord's, wickets were sacrificed at the altar of an all-out attack. At Headingley and Old Trafford, whilst the thrills still thrilled and the run rates raced, England added a more preservationist facet to their batting. Even as England, turbocharged by Crawley and Bairstow, sought enough runs ahead of the inevitable rain deluge, they refused to throw themselves onto obvious short ball traps.
That we go to the Oval with the Ashes, if not a share of the series, out of England’s grasp, is arguably down to the hard learning of Edgbaston and Lord's. However, this also provides evidence that their approach can evolve and thus we now are at the ‘end of the beginning’. Whilst insisting that results do not define them, England have shown they can adjust in order to win. The future for them and Test cricket generally looks rather brighter whatever the result at the Oval.
Crawley and England under the leadership of McCullum and Stokes are deeply imbued with a sense of collective mission that goes beyond any one match or series and focuses instead on reinvigorating the attractiveness of the Test cricket itself. Harry Brook picked up strongly on this saying “It's not about all the trophies, it’s about making sure everybody's enjoying watching cricket and I feel like we're going to be a team to be remembered. I think we're bringing different crowds coming to watch the game, more people are getting into Test cricket and we're almost trying to get it back alive again”.
Harry Brook emphasised both the learning taken from the first two Tests and his commitment to international cricket. "I feel like I was too reckless at Lord's. There's a fine line between being aggressive and reckless. So, it's just trying to find that balance”. He also affirmed his commitment to England saying "I want to play cricket for England…if I'm in all three formats for England, I don't really feel like there's too much time to be playing any other franchise stuff, to be honest. The IPL is the only one that is really free when you're available for everything. There won't be much thought there".
The words of Crawley and Brook carry additional resonance given their youth. At 25 and 24 respectively, they must help carry the flag for Test Cricket as it fights for relevance in the increasingly commercialised world of short-form franchises and provide consistency as England face inevitable evolution.
At Old Trafford, England had fielded the oldest four-man seam attack seen in a Test since New Zealand back in 1986 and the oldest in an Ashes Test since the Aussie quartet of Jack Gregory, Charles Kelloway, Jack Ryder and Stork Hendry almost a century ago.
That same England seam attack, like ageing gunfighters, will be strapping on their six guns for the final Ashes shootout south of the Thames. Whilst they resolutely deny it, one senses some sentiment in the selection and will hope that Jimmy Anderson can roll back the years and refute the evidence of his series figures so far. Moeen Ali too, despite having fulfilled his stop-gap number 3 role with honour may not be looking to extend his Test resurrection.
Manchester rain may have robbed us of the opportunity to see the Ashes destination decided, but England will certainly get over that disappointment and have a point to prove. Australian arguments that the Wellington Boot was on the other foot at the same venue in 2013 to the cost of their Ashes winning chances, simply hold no water. England were 2-0 up at that point and heading towards a 3-0 series win.
England have suggested a win at the Oval would represent a ‘moral victory’. In reality, there is no such thing, but it would give them the right to argue they had had the best of a drawn series. Australia, for their part, will be desperate to win outright and put to bed any such talk from their oldest foe.
Even though the weather may also have its say, don’t let anyone, English or Australian, tell you that this 5th Test will be anything other than another hotly contested, no quarter given, encounter. Whatever the result, the hope is that Test Cricket will once again be the ultimate winner.