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Joe Root: Is Bazball getting the most out of England’s best batter after second Test defeat to India?

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Though defeated, the fight shown by England in their second Test defeat to India is indicative of their unwavering commitment to Ben Stokes and his ‘Bazball’ principles – but is it coming at a cost?

It’s precisely that aggressive approach that saw England secure a famous 28-run in the series opener and had James Anderson boldly proclaiming they’d be willing to chase 600 before ultimately falling short of a record target of 399 in Vizag.

But, as successful as they’re proving, are the tactics getting the best out of their premier batter, Joe Root, and even the captain himself?

Root battling to find Bazball tempo

Root has only 52 runs through four innings in India so far this series, with his latest effort a frenetic 10-ball 16 not in keeping with his usual composed, elegant manner at the crease.

“He is one of England’s greatest-ever batters, if not the greatest – certainly in the top three – and he gets runs by just accumulating. So, is Bazball bringing him down?” Nasser Hussain pondered on the latest episode of the Sky Sports Cricket Podcast.

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Speaking on the Sky Sports Cricket podcast, Michael Atherton and Nasser Hussain discuss whether England batter Joe Root needs to play so aggressively

Root has never struggled to score throughout his Test career, one of those blink-and-he’s-already-scored-30 type players, built on a supreme ability to time the ball impeccably, pick the gaps and be proactive with his running.

In Vizag, blink and you may have missed Root’s entire second innings.

Root reverse-swept two of his first three deliveries faced, belted his seventh over long-off for six, survived a big lbw shout (and review) to the eighth and was gone two balls later – a leading edge off an attempted swipe over midwicket ballooning up to the fielder at backward point.

A finger injury suffered on day three may have contributed to his eagerness to get on with his innings, anticipating perhaps that the pain would not facilitate a longer stay, or is it just due to Root being the ultimate ‘team man’?

“It’s a great balancing act, Joe Root, in this Ben Stokes era. He is probably one who has found his tempo hard to find,” Sir Alastair Cook told TNT Sports.

“He sees all of these other people playing aggressive shots, which really suits their style… and he is so desperate to fit in with what Brendon [McCullum] and Ben [Stokes] are doing, sometimes I don’t think he gets the balance between defence and attack quite right.”

Cook added: “All the other players, they hadn’t necessarily dominated Test cricket in the same way, so this actually provided a very clear direction for them to play.

“There was one batsman in that team who knew exactly how to play, his method worked, and that’s Root.

England's Joe Root plays a shot during the first day of their first test cricket match against India in Hyderabad, India, Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024. (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A.)
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Joe Root has scored only 52 runs through his first four innings in the Test series in India so far

“He’s so desperate to be the great team man, having been captain, that he is throwing himself into it and sometimes he plays a shot like that which is unusual for him.”

That said, despite Root’s recent struggles, the stats actually show his average at 52.63, up from 49.19, since Stokes took over from him as captain and McCullum arrived as head coach in the summer of 2022. His strike rate has also improved from 54.65 to 75.01.

“The narrative is ‘does Joe Root need to play like that?’ I do buy that a little bit when you see him being so frenetic,” Hussain added.

“It has actually done his game some good. Reverse-sweeps for six. But just when it goes wrong everyone then piles on.”

McCullum certainly isn’t concerned, telling reporters on Tuesday: “There are three Tests left, still an opportunity to score a whole s*** ton of runs.

“People will look to the dismissal, look at the method of his option, but he was trying to get the field back so he could milk them.

“It is the bravery you have to show at times and sometimes you get out doing it, that’s just the way the game rolls. There is no doubt from our point of view about that approach.”

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Nasser Hussain says ‘genius’ Jasprit Bumrah gave India the edge in their thrilling 106-run victory over England in the second Test

Is Stokes stuck in first gear?

Another player to have their approach highlighted during the second Test was the skipper himself, arguably second only to Root in terms of his importance in the batting order.

Stokes’ average has also marginally improved since assuming the captaincy, 38.38 up from 35.89, but it’s more in his tempo where he has sometimes befuddled onlookers.

England's captain Ben Stokes plays a shot on the second day of the second cricket test match between India and England in Visakhapatnam, India, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
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Ben Stokes’ average has improved from 35.89 to 38.38 since taking over the Test captaincy in 2022

When looking to get his Bazball approach over to his team early on in his leadership, Stokes was perhaps a little too eager to lead by example, scoring at a strike rate of greater than a run a ball in over half of his innings’ in his debut series as skipper against New Zealand.

Then, an innings of 25 off 36 balls in the rearranged fifth Test against India at Edgbaston that same summer – one which saw Stokes repeatedly charge down the pitch to the opposition pace bowlers and survive two drops – drew criticism from, perhaps, an unlikely source.

“I was watching Stokes run down the wicket and slog the ball straight into the air. It was reckless batting,” former England shot-maker Kevin Pietersen told Sky Sports at the time.

“That devaluing of his Test wicket may not be a good thing. He is too good a player to do this.”

Stokes has since found better balance to his batting, scoring a first century as skipper against South Africa a month later, adding another against Australia in the second Ashes Test at Lord’s last summer.

That remarkable knock saw Stokes score 30 from his first 70 balls before ultimately belting 155 from 214 deliveries, with nine fours and as many sixes, in scenes reminiscent of his famous match-winning effort against the Aussies at Headingley in 2019.

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Watch the best of Ben Stokes’ stunning 155 from 214 balls, including nine sixes and nine fours, in the second Ashes Test at Lord’s

That ability to rapidly progress through the gears – evident again in the third Ashes Test at Headingley where 19 off 56 deliveries became 80 off 108, and in the first Test of this series, where he turned 17 off 52 into 70 from 88 – it’s what stands Stokes out as a supreme talent and showman.

But, is the knowledge that he can quickly up the ante seeing him retreat too much into his shell at the start?

England became a little bogged down in the passage of play after lunch on day four of their defeat in Vizag, with 26 runs added across 10 overs before Stokes was run out for 11 (off 29 balls).

Pietersen, on commentary in India, now believes Stokes is being too cautious at the crease early on.

“Stokes has been very, very relaxed at the start of most of the innings’ he has played in the last year or so, Pietersen said. “I’m wondering whether that dismissal will say to him, ‘I need to be a little bit more proactive’.

“It’s as if Stokes goes from first gear straight to fifth gear. He stays in first gear for a long period of time, he doesn’t take a risk and he doesn’t get on with the game… and then when the tail come in, he starts to go crash, bang, wallop.

“He is such a good player, a magnificent cricketer, a positive captain – he reads the game beautifully – but I just think he’s missing out on runs.”

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Michael Atherton insists England will still feel they are capable of winning their series in India, despite suffering a 106-run defeat in the second Test

There’s so many positives to be taken from England’s performances in the first two Tests in India, and Stokes’ side may yet come away with a famous series win, but only, you’d imagine, with their two best batters stamping their mark on proceedings.

England Test series in India 2024

Follow over-by-over text commentary from the third Test between India and England, in Rajkot, from Thursday February 15 live on skysports.com and the Sky Sports App (first ball at 4am).

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