It was interesting to hear Brendon McCullum sound the first note of introspection of the Bazball era this week. The relentless positivity emanating from this England team has been grating on some supporters for a while and it seems that even the coach now realises that a dose of realism is needed. England have been soundly beaten in India and there can be no hiding from that. The team have also not helped themselves with some of their public pronouncements, something which McCullum also acknowledged yesterday when he said that the players would need to be “a bit smarter” with their comments in interviews. Ben Duckett’s statements on this tour have veered from the  arrogant to the absurd,  responding “the more the better” when asked how many runs he hoped India would set the tourists to win before their crushing 434 defeat in Rajkot and suggesting that England should “get some credit” for Yashasvi Jaiswal’s sublime back to back double centuries because he was learning from Bazball. It is comments like this, combined with the endless braying of Ollie Robinson, a man with far more column inches than overs under his belt this winter, which gives this England team an air of arrogance in the eyes of the rest of the world. One wonders if there has been anyone in the dressing room prepared to have a quiet word with these players when they take it too far. From the outside it doesn’t look like there has and it is giving England a reputation that most of their players do not deserve. The endless pronouncements about how the team are “saving Test cricket” does not help either and can come across as patronising to their opponents, as did the comments about being the “moral” winners of the Ashes last summer.

On the pitch, England need to be smarter in key moments of games. In Vizag a target of 399 looked eminently gettable until Ollie Pope and Joe Root played as if they were in the last over of a T20 match. The match was crying out for a measured innings from one of these two, particularly Root, but both seemed unable of playing a single defensive shot during their brief stay at the crease, with Pope cutting Ashwin to slip and Root skying a catch up in the air for 16 off 10 balls.

In Rajkot as well, England failed to read the game when India were deprived off the services of Ravi Ashwin with the tourists well set on 224-2 and collapsed in a hail of reckless shots. Root’s infamous reverse scoop summed up the flaws of his team’s one-size-fits-all approach to batting.

Criticism from the outside is easy, and at times warranted, but it must be remembered that the Stokes/McCullum era has given us memories and performances that it is hard to imagine these players being capable of under any other regime. Cricket fans have short memories and it is easy to forget how utterly dismal England were, with many of the same players, before the Ben and Baz revolution. Between 2018 and 2022 England were bowled out for under 100 6 times. It has not happened at all since. Both the home series against India in 2021 and the following winter’s Ashes were studies in negativity and ineptitude. So-called Bazball liberated these players from the over intensity and pressure of an army of coaches and analysts and made them enjoy playing cricket again. As a result, they became much more enjoyable to watch and reconnected with their public. The problem since is that the players, and perhaps the management, have got carried away with a good concept and taken it to absurd levels. That must end now. The ridiculous mantra that “results don’t matter” must also be consigned to the dustbin. Results do matter. Sports fans may want to be entertained but the thing that entertains them the most is seeing their team win. No one enjoys watching a losing team and England have now gone 15 months without winning a Test series. The last four Tests in India have not felt enjoyable for players or fans. If one thing comes out of this series, it should be the realisation that losing is not fun. McCullum indicated as much when he spoke of England being “hard-nosed” in future. He also said that “tough conversations” would need to be had with underperforming players which is welcome to hear. For too long now this England team has felt like a closed shop, an old boys’ club where the same group of players will be picked no matter what.

England’s players, in particular their batsmen, have not been consistent enough.  One-off performances do not win 5 Test series. Ollie Pope does not have the game to be a Test number 3 for the long term. He played one of the great innings by an Englishman overseas in the first Test in Hyderabad but barely made a run afterwards. The number 3 role is crucial and the player that fills it should be capable of being the glue that holds an innings together. Pope’s skittishness at the crease does not translate well to this.

The openers too should have more question marks hanging over them than the praise from captain and coach suggest. Ben Duckett played sublimely for his 153 at Rajkot but otherwise averaged 21.11 across nine innings, the nadir of which was the wild charge and swipe at Ravi Ashwin in the second innings at Dharamsala that might as well have been accompanied by a white flag.

The praise heaped on Zak Crawley feels slightly misplaced too. The Kent man reached 50 on four occasions during the series but failed to convert any of them into centuries, registering a top score of 79. Scores 50-70 do not win Test matches on the subcontinent. Crawley should look at Jaiswal, a player who scores at a similar rate but knows how to pace his innings and possessed the technique to make back to back double centuries in Vizag and Rajkot.

The spin bowling department was the one true bright spot of the tour and Shoaib Bashir has been a revelation. Stokes and McCullum should get huge credit for plucking him from county cricket after only 6 first class games.

England should not give up on their current method. Playing positively is the best approach for the players they have and there is no doubt that their entertaining style has gained new fans for the game, particularly during last summer’s Ashes. Very few teams go to India and receive anything other than a chastening defeat. Australia lost 2-1 there last winter, including a crushing innings defeat in Nagpur. Rohit Sharma even said that this England is noticeably better than the one which toured under Chris Silverwood and Joe Root three years ago.

All we as cricket supporters ask for is a bit of introspection and an acknowledgment that sometimes England could play the match situation better. Winning matters and it would do no harm if Stokes and McCullum’s England became a little bit more hard nosed in that regard. They also need to save us some of the bravado and false confidence. If pride comes before a fall then England have taken a tumble here in India. A touch of humility might now be needed. This team is not saving Test cricket or teaching other nations how to play. With a little more level-headedness though, they might still become a very fine cricket team and win new fans to the game along the way.

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