LAST summer I flew to London from the US and was bursting with excitement at the prospect of watching England crush South Africa at Lord’s with their exciting new ‘Bazball’ style of cricket.
Unfortunately my ticket was for the fourth day and when I landed at lunchtime on the third day England was in deep trouble.
“I just flew 5,500 miles from Los Angeles to be at Lord’s tomorrow for Day 4 of Test play,” I tweeted, discouraged, as our batsmen continued to come and go at an alarming rate. “There may not be a Day 4.”
It was South Africa that annihilated England in just three days, leaving me in a state of bitter disappointment, both for missing out on my favorite sporting event of the year and for the seemingly abrupt end of Bazball as the brave new world of English cricket.
But late on Friday night I received a text message from England captain Ben Stokes with a copy of my tweet and the words: “There will be days when you come back on day four to watch us play and we will make sure that.” Your trip is worth it.” …trust me on that, Piers…Stokesy.”
I was amazed that he would have taken the trouble to send this on a night when he would have been feeling even more depressed than I was.
It also said so much about the character of a man whose dedication to attracting, entertaining and satisfying fans is so intense that he makes Pep Guardiola look like a bastion of composure by comparison.
“Ben,” I replied, “I have never enjoyed watching England cricket more than under your guidance.”
“It’s an exhilarating ride and I happily endure a shake or two at the sheer excitement and audacity your team plays with and although my cricket-loving head is sad at having to miss my favorite day on the sporting calendar, my liver will very upset.” grateful… go get them in manchester.”
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Stokes and his glittering side clinched victory as England beat South Africa by an inning at Old Trafford and by nine wickets at The Oval to win the series 2-1.
It was a remarkable turn of events that drew the attention of the entire cricket world to this Bazball revolution – named after coach Brendon “Baz” McCullum, whose relentless attacking mentality mirrored that of his captain.
Now the duo face their toughest challenge yet with an Ashes series against new Test champions Australia that promises to be one of the all-time greats.
And while it will no doubt be a very tough and competitive few weeks, I’m sure England will emerge victorious.
Why so sure?
Because Stokes and his team are playing the game with such unprecedented speed, power and aggression that I don’t think any other country can match them.
Yes, Australia has some really good fast bowlers and a world-class spinner in Nathan Lyon, and they’re going to have all sorts of carefully thought-out plans on how to fight Bazball.
But as Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan until they get slapped in the face.”
And England’s middle class of Root, Brook, Stokes and Bairstow are the most dangerous batsmen in Test cricket and any one of them is capable of winning a match.
As far as our bowling goes, it’s undoubtedly a blow that Jofra Archer and Jack Leach are both out of the series through injuries, but Mark Wood, who wasn’t selected for Edgbaston but will feature later, is just as quick as any other Aussies and Moeen Ali is a born bazball cricketer with ball and bat.
And those grand old warhorses Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad remain hard-fought, often unplayable predators on English wickets, turning Australian batsmen into hairless Samsons as the ball nibbles around.
On paper, the two sides are so even that even England captain Michael Vaughan, who won the Ashes in 2005, isn’t backed by prediction.
But stats alone don’t tell the true story of this England side who, under Stokes’ captaincy, have won 11 of 13 Tests, had the highest run rate of any Test side in history in a calendar year in 2022 – and will continue to do so will be higher in 2023 – and achieve the most sixes.
It’s the way we play, with such extraordinary freedom and flair, that gives us the advantage.
Last September I enjoyed a long lunch with Anderson and Broad, both of whom were so enthralled with the uniquely liberating Bazball philosophy implemented by Stokes’ bold, cautious captain who places great emphasis on hitting fast runs and taking wickets enthusiastic when they have their price.
The message to the players is clear. Be adventurous, never back down, and do it all at a pace that will relentlessly pressure the opponent.
There are no boring draws for these guys; It’s either a glorious victory or a sinking attempt.
It’s been an overwhelmingly successful strategy so far and I’m loving every second of it.
Ironically, one who would have also absolutely loved Bazball would be the late, great Shane Warne, who would have done it himself had he ever been Australia’s Test captain.
And one of the reasons I’m so confident that England will win The Ashes back is that in 2005 a similarly strong Australian team fell short despite Warnie’s 40 wickets.
This Australian team has no player like him who lived and breathed the privateering, daredevil spirit of Bazball every time he stepped onto a cricket ground.
They now play conventional cricket while England play breathtakingly unconventional, criticism-defying, dangerous and competitive cricket.
That’s why I’m sure we’ll win – hopefully on day four of the final test at The Oval so I can text Ben Stokes to congratulate him and thank him for keeping his word, even if mine Liver will pay the price!