It was revelations galore on Sunday in London. A Ben Stokes spectacle at Lord’s, for once, ended in the silence of disappointment.
Ashes 2023, the 73rd installment of the contest, and the first of the third World Test Championship (WTC) cycle, has picked up on a horde of narratives, with stone-cold banter and bitterness taking centre stage again. The series does not seem to be how it started at Edgbaston anymore, with two restrained yet passionately fierce modern cricketing greats leading their respective teams.
While Pat Cummins and his men opted for their traditional trade of dominance and sharpness of skill, England continued to play by its revolutionary product.
That the pitch for the ‘Bazball’ concept—with two Kiwi-born leaders at the forefront—found takers among common folk at the home of cricket and neutrals around the world lies in its rawness. Or call it naivety, like a game on the streets where you are the king of your backyard until bigger boys from the alley come calling. The psyche of organised cricket does not hurt you. With the purity of adrenaline kicking in, you swing for your chance to become the hero, often losing sight of the fulfilment of a win.
In the quest to revisit its red-ball shambles, akin to its white-ball overhaul post the 2015 ODI World Cup debacle, head coach Brendon McCullum and Stokes handled the box office with refreshing content until it began to go awry in its first significant test coming against Australia, the new World Test champion.
New Zealand and India, the early receivers of the Bazball wave in mid-2022, were largely shaken by the novelty of the concept. However, in its magnanimous task to fix the entertainment crisis in red-ball cricket, England has veered away from its honest woes.
Despite being hung over the edge of a cliff that could make anyone acrophobic for a moment, Stokes vowed that his men had immediately pinned down their next target after missing out twice in Birmingham and London.
“All we’re thinking about is winning the series 3-2. It’s very exciting to know that the way in which we are playing our cricket actually couldn’t be more perfect for the situation we find ourselves in—we have to win these three games to get this urn back. We are a team that is obviously willing to put ourselves out there and do things against the narrative. So now these next three games are an even better opportunity for us than we’ve ever found ourselves in before,” Stokes claimed after cracking an epochal fourth-innings 155 off 214 balls in vain.
While his statement awaits action from the squad, it goes without saying that the captain feeds off pressure the best. His more mortal sidekicks tend to reveal they are comfortably punchable when distress knocks on the door.
As Jonny Bairstow went on a mindless stroll up the Lord’s slope, on the stroke of Lunch on day five of a 370-run chase, he unknowingly restored fire in the tussle for the urn. With a creative Alex Carey’s timely reaction for a stumping, well within the Laws of Cricket, common sense was found wanting for a second successive game somewhere inside England’s single-minded dressing room and sections of the home crowd. Members of the Lord’s Long Room turned uncouth, and sights of a nasty rivalry soon reappeared.
Bairstow’s dismissal, however, kicked in for Stokes, who went on a spellbinding carnage for his first knock of note in 15 innings. He even decided to shield number eight Stuart Broad in a 108-run stand, like in a palpitating evening run-chase in the neighbouring playground or bylanes, where the brightest batter often finds themselves in the most gallant of storylines possible.
There is no sense of caution against what is to be feared within this English camp. So much so that it has paid no heed to the succession plan for a needlessly overcooked 40-year-old James Anderson and its all-condition effect as a bowling unit.
The absence of that fear of ill-fated results has effectively inversed outcomes for England. Headingley, Stokes’ holy grail, will be the next pitstop in a series that could potentially unravel the complete assortment of Bazball’s shortcomings before July 31 at the Oval.
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