England captain Ben Stokes stuck to his guns despite criticism of his fearless ‘Bazball’ approach and feels vindicated after his side levelled the Ashes series on a dramatic final day.
Australia were well-placed at 264-3, chasing a mammoth 384 to win, and even had they come away with just a draw, that would have been enough to secure a 2-1 series success.
But instead they suffered a dramatic collapse after a lengthy rain delay on the fifth day at The Oval.
Stuart Broad took the final two wickets as England won by 49 runs to pull level at 2-2.
England started the series against Australia confident their gung-ho approach would work even against the newly crowned Test world champions.
They had good reason to be upbeat, with an impressive record of 11 wins in 13 matches since Stokes had teamed up with coach Brendon McCullum, after whom Bazball is named.
From the moment Zak Crawley hit the first ball of the Ashes for four at Edgbaston, it was apparent England had no intention of changing their formula despite the challenge posed by Australia’s pace attack.
But while the fans have thrilled to England’s approach at packed grounds, Stokes has been criticised for not applying the brakes at crucial moments.
He raised eyebrows by declaring in the first innings of the first Test at Edgbaston when England were 393-8 with half an hour’s play left, leaving Joe Root high and dry on 118* in a match they ultimately lost.
England were criticised for falling for Australia’s hooking trap in the second Test at Lord’s when they were well-placed to take control.
Ben Duckett bullishly came out and said the team did not regret taking on Australia’s short-ball challenge, despite the disappointment of falling for 98.
“It’s the way we play our cricket,” he said. “If we went into our shells and got bombed out it would be totally against the way we play.”
But former England captain Michael Vaughan described it as “stupid Test match cricket”.
Australia went on to win that match by 43 runs, despite Stokes’s heroic 155 in England’s second innings, to go 2-0 up in the series.
The home side won a nail-biter at Headingley by three wickets and would almost certainly have levelled the series at Old Trafford without a deluge in Manchester after Crawley’s stunning 189 off 182 balls.
That would have set up the fifth and final Test at The Oval for a perfect conclusion, turning it into a one-match shootout.
A clatter of unnecessary wickets on Saturday meant Australia’s target in London was less than it might have been but ultimately it did not matter as England roared back to win.
Stokes, speaking in the aftermath of victory, said England had been “very successful” with Bazball but he was not surprised to face pushback.
“Criticism is part and parcel of everything you do,” he said. “But obviously the most important views and the most important opinions that we view and that I view as a leader are the opinions of the people around me, people who I’m trying to speak to to get the output that I seek.
“When you see performances, particularly in this series, that’s the vindication … the most important people you worry about are in your dressing room.”
Former England captain Nasser Hussain, who suffered the pain of defeat against Australia, said he had been torn over the current side’s approach.
“I have been in a quandary in this series,” he told Sky Sports. “I see the bigger picture of wanting to entertain but I have also seen the historical picture of ‘we used to get battered by this lot’.
“When you have an Australian down, keep them down. It is also about winning. Yes, entertain but win as well. England have just tightened it and got the right side of the line, to win and entertain.”
© Agence France-Presse