England’s commitment to ‘Bazball’ is testing the patience of former players and fans after another careless batting display left their Ashes hopes hanging by a thread.
Captain Ben Stokes and Harry Brook walked out to bat at Lord’s on Friday with the second Test nicely poised despite a chaotic final session the previous evening.
But the home side slumped from 278-4 to 325 all out, giving Australia a precious first-innings lead of 91.
Once again, England were the architects of their own downfall.
On Thursday, Ollie Pope, Ben Duckett and Joe Root all gifted their wickets to Australia, even though the visitors’ short-ball plan was blindingly obvious.
England had a nightmare start on the third day when Stokes, who had played responsibly the previous evening, was dismissed by Mitchell Starc off the second ball.
England, in their previous incarnation – and most sides in Test history – would have taken stock and re-built. But not this team.
Brook, who made 50, threw way his wicket after an ugly swipe to a Starc delivery ended up in the hands of Australia captain Pat Cummins.
“Shocking shot,” former England captain Michael Vaughan told the BBC. “England clearly like losing. Yesterday they gifted Australia three wickets.
“They arrive on day three, the pitch is doing a bit more. To see that wicket and Australia now know they are bowling to the tail.”
Again England did not learn.
Jonny Bairstow, the last recognised specialist batsman, chipped the ball tamely to Cummins off the bowling of Josh Hazlewood. Ollie Robinson charged down the track to part-time spinner Travis Head and got an edge. Stuart Broad missed a sweep against the same bowler.
Alastair Cook, who skippered England to two Ashes series wins, said there was “a sense of shock around the ground”.
“We keep going back to that spell, how precious Test match runs and sessions are,” he said. “We’ve all watched enough cricket, when you get in positions, it is so precious and you have to realise how precious that is and treasure it.”
A gung-ho England went into the Ashes with 11 wins under their belt from 13 Tests under Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum, playing a thrilling brand of attacking cricket dubbed ‘Bazball’ in reference to the former New Zealand captain.
Questions were asked over whether they could keep up the pace against the recently-crowned Test world champions, who boast a battery of high-class quicks.
England came agonisingly close to winning the first match at Edgbaston last week.
An inspired display by Cummins, this time with the bat, hauled Australia over the line by two wickets.
Even so, England made Australia’s task in the fourth innings far easier than it should have been by tossing wickets away cheaply earlier in the match.
Stokes has repeatedly stressed his fierce commitment to Bazball, saying before the Ashes started that he wanted to “create something that goes beyond cricket”.
But England now find themselves with their backs against the wall, just over halfway through the second Test of a five-match series.
Australia have not won an Ashes series in England since 2001 but, looked at another way, England have not come out on top against their old foe since 2015.
Will England’s great entertainers stick or twist? Can they learn to change gear when they are on top?
Cummins’ side, who are building a healthy lead at Lord’s with two days to go, are strongly placed to take a daunting 2-0 lead in the five-match series.
Stokes will point to the fact that England had won just one Test in 17 playing the traditional way before he took over the reins from Joe Root last year.
But England batting great Geoff Boycott, famed for his patient accumulation of runs, believes putting on a show must come second to the main objective of winning.
“If you’re going to just entertain, they might as well be a circus, that’s it,” he told the Vaughany and Tuffers Cricket Club podcast. “Go, be a professional circus around the world.”
© Agence France-Presse