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News Analysis

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

George Dobell
George Dobell
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.
"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