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Comment

Ben Stokes' positive aggression is England's new mantra for success

The captain has empowered his team to go for victory from the first ball, and it shows in the confidence of its young bowlers and batters

Ian Chappell
Ian Chappell
11-Feb-2024
Under Stokes, England's young spinners have flourished  •  Associated Press

Under Stokes, England's young spinners have flourished  •  Associated Press

Ben Stokes' aggressive approach to captaincy may have failed to claim victory in a hard-fought second Test but the five-match series against India is still wide open at 1-1.
Much of England's success has been attributed to Bazball - the desire to score quickly and tactically rattle the opposition - but this is a misnomer. What Stokes has really done is set out to achieve victory from ball one by playing aggressive cricket in all aspects of the game.
Stokes has been extremely smart to adopt such an approach and his aggressive tactics have brought England great success in the win column. It's an approach that England were extremely slow to adopt but Stokes has shown himself to be a strong-minded and smart leader.
The England team has great belief in Stokes and it shows both on and off the field. The team takes wickets because they are continually looking for them, and this challenge is accepted by the bowlers. One of the great benefits of this strategy is that it enthuses the best players, and they are the ones most likely to affect the final result.
The team also believe that Stokes' aggression will help them claim the odd unexpected success. This belief is what generally leads to a team producing something extra that leads to a vital wicket. Stokes' brilliance in the field helped him produce a run-out at a crucial time in Hyderabad - and it also helped increase team belief.
Stokes' attitude has helped the younger players believe in themselves, and this is showing in their bowling performances. The success of young players Tom Hartley, Rehan Ahmed and Shoaib Bashir is no fluke; it epitomises the confidence instilled by Stokes' approach.
Hartley's success with both bat and ball should make the limited Jack Leach redundant in the Test side. One of England's weaknesses has been their spin department, but Stokes' positive approach suddenly means that slow bowling has a number of candidates.
The success of Ollie Pope at No. 3 and the ascent of Harry Brook as a vital middle-order player also means the batting is potentially much stronger.
One personal area Stokes could look at is his own batting. If he were more proactive at the start of each innings, it would improve his play. Stokes is a very good batter but he's at his best when he's looking to score.
These marked improvements in talent should ensure that in future England pick their strongest available team for the prevailing conditions. England have erred in the past by not picking their best wicketkeeper and by often shunning the value of extra pace. Injuries to fast bowlers aside, this should be a thing of the past.
It will help England enormously if Stokes is once again able to function as an allrounder, as his bowling is a distinct weapon. It would also help if he fielded in the slips, especially to the spinners, as he is one of the best in that position.
The other area where England could improve is in their use of the bouncer barrage. It's often an overused ploy, and it must be remembered that the biggest advantage of the bouncer is the element of surprise.
One personal area Stokes could look at is his own batting. If he were more proactive at the start of each innings, it would improve his play. Stokes is a very good batter but he's at his best when he's looking to score.
India is a strong side and they also have a good leader in Rohit Sharma. They will be greatly strengthened by Ravindra Jadeja's and KL Rahul's recovery from injury, but that Virat Kohli will not return for the rest of the series is a blow. Hopefully the selectors will now stop overestimating Shreyas Iyer's batting ability and learn to value Kuldeep Yadav's wicket-taking capability more.
As the home side India should eventually win a tough series, but it has a real battle on their hands. England under the aggressive leadership of Stokes are a far cry from the poorly captained Joe Root team that capitulated against spin on their last tour of the country.
This India versus England contest is shaping up as it should: a tough five-match encounter between two talented sides.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is a columnist