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India v England 2024

Mark Butcher: England’s Rajkot defeat is not a vindication of Bazball criticism

England Test captain and head coach Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes in conversation during a practice session, with a headshot of Mark Butcher inset
by Wisden Staff 3 minute read

Mark Butcher has defended England’s style of play in the wake of their thrashing in the third Test at Rajkot, ascribing their defeat simply to “a poor performance on day three with the bat”, rather than anything more fundamental.

England and India were at level pegging at the end of the second day, Ben Duckett’s century taking England to 207-2 in response to India’s 445 all out. The next two days could have hardly gone worse for the tourists. They lost 112-8 to slide to 319 all out, and then were powerless to stop the hosts racking up 430-4 on the back of Yashasvi Jaiswal’s second double century in consecutive Tests. Set 557 to win, they crumbled to 112 all out, the 434-run margin India’s biggest ever in Tests, and England’s largest defeat in 90 years.

In the wake of the defeat, there has been much criticism of England’s style of play. Under Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum, England have pioneered a significantly more aggressive approach, largely with success – they have won 14 Tests and lost six under their stewardship – but with their collapse on day three pockmarked by dismissals to attacking strokes, some took aim at the philosophy, with former England captain Michael Vaughan saying that Bazball had been exposed.

Speaking on the Wisden Cricket Weekly podcast, Butcher offered a defence of Bazball, pointing out that India’s dominant home record – they had lost three home Tests in 12 years heading into this series – and England’s improvement under McCullum and Stokes should offer plenty of mitigation.

“I’m a bit surprised that the backlash has been quite so strong over the last couple of days, only when you put it into context of what happens to every visiting team going to India, pretty much,” he said. “Whether it’s on raging bunsens or whether it’s on better surfaces as we’ve seen in the last two games, teams tend to come a cropper quite badly in India, and up until day three, England were in there fighting as they have done.

“I also find it a little bit shocking that it’s almost as though people have been waiting for this day ever since Ben and Baz took over and this new slightly more carefree style of Test matches have come about. It’s almost as if people have been desperate for them to trip up. I’m not entirely sure that this is the game that I would have gone full two-footed tackle in on them, really. Yes, they stuffed up a bit on the morning of day three with the bat, but once you’ve given away a lead of 150 in India batting last, this is likely to happen to you. The fact that it didn’t happen in that first Test match is a miracle in itself. I don’t think it’s a vindication of any criticism of Bazball whatsoever, I think it was a poor performance from them on day three with the bat, and then what followed from there was entirely predictable.

“I think it’s really important to reiterate this point, that all those who were going to jump on England’s back about their approach and all the rest of it over the course of this Test match in particular, and we’re kind of forgetting the fact that this is a team that shouldn’t really be living with India at all in these conditions at home. And so the expectation of winning a Test match series in India, even with the best side that you can put out, it’s not a forlorn hope, but it is a hope over any form of expectation. And what we’ve seen over these past four days is pretty much what you’d expect given the normal run of things. India get a lead in the first innings, they go about getting huge runs when the pitch is still relatively decent in the second and they put you out of the game. I expected that anyway.”

Butcher also posited that England stood a better chance to regain a foothold in the series playing as they are, but conceded that they will have to play “perfectly” to do so.

“I actually think that England are in a better position to recover from a loss like this than they would have been in any era gone by, really,” he said. “They’re very unlikely to go into their shells and start questioning themselves and start pointing fingers at one another after this defeat, and because of that they will go into the next one as if it never happened. Having the memory of a goldfish in the circumstances where you get pounded is actually a good thing. They will go into it very, very positive that they can turn it around 3-2. Now some people might say that’s delusional, but what’s the alternative? To go out there with your tailes between your legs and go against everything that you stand for and lose better, and that’s one of the great things about Ben Stokes’ approach as a captain, which is that losing is losing, whether it’s by three or four minutes or whether it’s by a whole day and 400 and something runs.

“England were one all going into the third Test match, and there will still be a concern in the back of the minds of India that if the toss comes down the other way, England score runs in a first innings, that with their positive approach they can still upset India at home. It will be in the back of their minds. For England, however, things have to go perfectly. They can’t afford a bad session, they can’t afford to miss chances in the field. They can’t afford to lose clusters of wickets in quick time because there’s very little recovering from that, particularly when their bowling attack is as green as the one that they have.

“Obviously it’s disappointing, and as much as Ben and the guys will talk about not worrying too much about losses and not being affected by them and it’s the way you play the game and all that kind of stuff, of course it will hurt. But I would rather have a bunch of players being led in the way that they are going into the next match after a loss like this than anything that would have had before in the past where the recriminations would have been so strong, where everyone will go into their shells, and then the likelihood of it happening again or perhaps even happening worse becomes much, much greater. I’m more than happy to give them a break, especially after everything that’s happened under Bazball, and I certainly wouldn’t be encouraging them to throw the baby out with the bath water because I don’t think you can beat India like that either, particularly not with the players that they have out there.”

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