The Investec Ashes 2015 August 1, 2015

Bayliss won't curb England enthusiasm

England's commitment to attacking with the bat, whatever the consequences, has received official endorsement from their new coach
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'Team showed what they are capable of' - Bayliss

A few years ago - 2004 if memory serves - an elderly spectator settled down to watch a day of cricket at Horsham before the 11am start of play and promptly died. It was not until 9pm that anyone noticed. Such was the character of the crowd, and the cricket, that one more silent, motionless man in a chair hardly stood out.

But cricket has changed. It has changed in much the way that David Icke, the former footballer and sports presenter, changed. Once it existed in the background: reassuringly traditional, calm, unchallenging and talking quietly about snooker. Then one day it woke up, claimed it was the son of God and suggested the Queen Mother was a lizard sent by aliens to rule over us. Okay, cricket is not just like David Icke, but you get the picture. It has transformed.

The point is, spectators can no longer snooze. If they do so for even a moment, they are likely to miss several wickets, a glut of boundaries and Michael Clarke's involvement in the game.

Whether the game has changed for the better is debatable. But whether it is due to the introduction of T20, the wealth of rival entertainment options, the pace of modern life or shorter attention spans, it seems there is no going back. The forward defensive has become a stroke so rare that dentists in America plan to hunt it down and shoot it.

It was a sense brought home by England's new coach, Trevor Bayliss, at the end of the third Investec Ashes Test at Edgbaston. Talking about Ian Bell's first-innings dismissal - he lobbed a catch to mid-on after attempting to hit a Nathan Lyon delivery over the top - Bayliss admitted some concern. But it was more about Bell's execution of the stroke than his attempt to play it that bothered Bayliss.

Bell played nicely in Birmingham. He scored more runs than anyone and saw his side home. It was a classy performance. But his first-innings dismissal - some would call it an indiscretion, some simply a mishit - could have hurt England. Having done the hard work, he was so intent to dominate Lyon that he skipped down the pitch to the fourth ball of his spell and gave David Warner a catch.

The weather was closing in - only eight more deliveries were bowled that day - and Bell's dismissal meant new batsmen had to face a fresh Mitchell Johnson in the morning. He dismissed two of them in his first, brilliantly brutal, over. It could have cost England.

"As a captain and a coach you would prefer - and the player himself would prefer - that he hadn't played that shot," Bayliss said. "But it was probably more the timing of it.

"If you look back, we came off just after it so it makes it look worse. We lost a wicket five minutes before we come off the ground. He probably played the shot to the wrong ball and maybe at the wrong time."

But Bayliss will not be attempting to curb such aggression. While he may want to make it a little more selective, this England camp remain committed - some would suggest overly committed - to the attacking approach. Indeed, Bayliss suggested that such a positive approach should be the default option, with more defensive play only applied when necessary.

Ian Bell skied a catch off the bowling of Nathan Lyon in England's first innings at Edgbaston © Getty Images

"The message to the young players in the group that are, hopefully, going to continue this positive brand of cricket is you've got to learn to play it. That includes knowing when to pull it back a little bit and knowing when do to the hard yards and go through some tough periods.

"I think it's harder to actually go the other way. If you have a negative-type of approach it's actually harder to step it up and be attacking. From that point of view I'm quite happy that he tried something."

This contrasts markedly with the traditional view. Traditionally, it was believed that a solid defence was the bedrock of a batsman's technique and that more positive shots should only be built upon that. Some players seemingly went entire international careers - think of Chris Tavare - with only that foundation.

But such cricket seems to belong to a time when coverage was in black of white, male spectators wore ties and everyone appeared to have a Greek-style moustache. The world has changed. Batsmen appear to have ADHD and dying at the cricket is only allowed if it is sponsored by an approved ICC "partner".

It is hard to avoid the impression that Kevin Pietersen was, for England at least, a man ahead of his time. Some of his dismissals - the catch to long-on in Perth in late 2013, for example - would nowadays be treated as the inevitable side effect of "aggressive cricket". At the time they were treated as something approaching treason.

Might there be some contradiction between Bayliss' commitment towards positivity and his observation that he would like one of the batsmen to "score a hundred and bat for a long time"? It sounds dangerously like "score at 12 an over but don't get out".

But Bayliss would point out that there is a balance to batting. That there is a time to attack and a time to defend. That the emphasis is still on the former but you have to know when to apply the latter.

"You'd like to see someone score a big hundred," Bayliss said when asked what lessons he had taken from Edgbaston. "One thing we didn't have, from either side, was someone to score a hundred and bat for a long, long time.

"Yes, it might have been a bit difficult, but there were enough guys that actually got starts that showed it wasn't impossible to bat on that pitch. Sometimes in those difficult situations it just needs that little bit of extra application to get through those tough periods, and then the easy runs come later on."

One thing is for sure: given a half decent pitch, England are more entertaining to watch than they have been for some time. And, in a sport fighting for the oxygen of publicity in a busy world, that is no bad thing. There is no snoozing at the cricket these days.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • John on August 4, 2015, 10:30 GMT

    @IRONBOTTOM CTD - Reading your post again it looks even more silly. I've already mentioned that no one else below Bell scored runs or hung with Bell but you talk about that inns like it was the last hour of a test where they were saving a game and not the 1st inns of a test. Also someone like Broad is generally better off playing in an attacking manner as IMO he is not necessarily going to last much longer by trying to hang around so he may as well try and get some runs on the board while he's there. Obviously there are times - like in NZ in 2013 when Broad hung with Prior for so long when trying to save the game a different approach is needed. But look at the rewards the cautious approach is bringing to Buttler as an example

  • John on August 4, 2015, 9:20 GMT

    @IRONBOTTOM - You seem to have a chip on your shoulder re Swann as you mentioned this on another thread. Surely it depends on the batsman and the situation. What you fail to mention re that particular inns is that Swann still scored more runs than KP and every player below Bell playing the way he did so if the others were playing responsibly it didn't work did it? And if they weren't then why are you scapegoating Swann? If Swann had tried to play cautiously maybe it was just as likely he'd get out just as quickly. The other thing you fail to mention is that the Swann inns was in the 1st inns and not in a situation where we were just trying to bat to save the game. If you look at the Ali/Broad partnership in this game it may well have been pivotal.

  • Rusty on August 4, 2015, 6:34 GMT

    Remarkable that the author hasn't mentioned the bloke at the other end. He also has to be considered. I remember Swann coming in to bat at 7/8 in 2013 in Australia, with Bell at the other end in great touch. Swann's job was to not get out. Not Swann, he just threw his bat at every ball and lasted 5 minutes. Bell scored about 5 more runs and the game was lost. Broad is looking in better touch, but he should also be reminded that his job, usually, is to not get out, support the batsman. If it's him and another bowler then have a swing, although there's still an argument to just not get out and frustrate the opposition, time allowing.

  • Worrell on August 3, 2015, 11:26 GMT

    @robinp-that was sobers, Barry Richards, pointing etc. Thinking. That's why they won matches.

  • Dummy4 on August 3, 2015, 11:18 GMT

    there wont be anderson but england has good reserves and re the favrts to win remaining tests at #trentbridge #oval where australian side has mostly suffered.. being the reason they havent won an ashes in england for 15 years

  • Robert on August 3, 2015, 9:38 GMT

    We have lost Anderson for one match. They lost Harris for the series (and more). We shouldn't feel to hard done by.

  • Dummy4 on August 3, 2015, 8:14 GMT

    No Anderson means a huge blow for England but still i find them favorites for next test

  • Cameron on August 3, 2015, 6:27 GMT

    I think we can reserve judgement on these sides until the series is done. The way it has see-sawed is testament to how bad these teams are, not how good they are. Australia have shown me that they may be brilliant at times but boy when they are bad they are bad. If they play well next test and England can avoid being completely blown away then I would say England start to emerge with the honours. I don't understand the media lauding this series as compelling, it has been a tale of poor form form both sides, comical errors, chopping and changing sides, terrible pitches and one sided matches. How do these things make for 'compelling' cricket? It has been terrible, how did the most watched series in the game descend into this?

  • ian on August 3, 2015, 6:08 GMT

    And now we have 'fast-food cricket' in Test matches! When a raft of fast food outlets first hit the high streets, they were literally the flavour of the time. It took a while for the populace at large to realise that they'd been had, that the nutritional value of their products was questionable or downright cr*p. Thus, Ashes'cricket! The nature of Test cricket is not that of the shorter formats. There is a vital difference: Test matches are/were gourmet cuisine; patience was required for the feast to be prepared, but the depth of enjoyment was many, many times that of the burger bun and its tomato sauce smeared brown stuff. Now it seems that there are few players capable of scoring more than 70, and that only with some luck. A word of praise for the England quicks: they demonstrated the old and timeless virtues of line and length on a helpful pitch. Nothing timeless about the batting though! There needs to be a balance: positivity and patience, not a headlong Saturday-less Test!

  • Dummy4 on August 3, 2015, 1:14 GMT

    I've no problem with the attacking (but not aggressive!) cricket we've been seeing from England. To some extent it's a return to the spirit of the 1890s and 1900s, when batsmen wanted to attack first - their first thought was 'how and where can I hit this to make runs'. It was really the 1930s that established the dour 'wait for the bad ball' mentality that came to dominate test cricket. Of course, some players could maybe dial it back ever so slightly, and of course the cricket of the 1900s was played on the basis of classical technique, which maybe some players (but certainly not Bell!) lack. But there's no need to make too much of a virtue of dourness.

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