Ben Stokes’ 155 v Ben Stokes’ captaincy – which was more irregular?

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Ben Stokes’ incredible attempt to play a twice-in-a-lifetime innings has tragically overshadowed the Lord’s Test’s most extraordinary passage of play: England spending two-thirds of a day bowling nothing but 80mph bouncers and it somehow working out for them.

Forget day five. We’ve all seen a Stokes special before and everyone already knows that most modern batters don’t feel all that strongly about staying in their ground – nothing new about that. No, looking back at the second Ashes Test as a whole, day four was the real weirdo.

We can only presume that England hit upon their bowling plan in an ambitious bid to mitigate the criticism they’d been attracting for losing so many wickets to the short ball themselves.

The results enabled a kind of: “See! See! It wasn’t just us losing wickets to the short ball! Australia did too! Okay, bowling 95% short balls for 50 overs in a row did make wickets to the short ball fractionally more likely – but still!”

What was so spectacular about this stretch of the game is that the above reads like comedic exaggeration when it is in fact an underrepresentation of reality. The truth is England bowled 98% short balls for 51 overs in a row.

That’s an actual statistic. England’s approach was so extreme it was literally beyond rhetoric.

That is about the most pig-headed commitment to a strange and narrow tactic you’re ever likely to see from a whole team.

Even more remarkably, England didn’t really have any bowlers particularly well suited to bowling short, but they did it anyway. They did it with every single bowler they used for hours on end. And it worked. Truly the spirit of The Great Neil Wagner was with them. Maybe it was just another example of how willpower is finite with batter after batter slowly losing the ability to restrain themselves any longer.

England still lost the match of course – in many different ways and places. The happy hooking in the first innings drew a lot of the brickbats, but ineffectually spudgunning their way through the first day didn’t help. Australia were at one point 316-3 which is not a position of strength if you’ve elected to bowl. Stokes’ 155 basically came when England had already left themselves needing a slightly-too-big miracle.

They also conceded 44 in no-balls and byes and lost by 43. We’re not suggesting they could have eliminated these extras and won. It’s just an illustration of the kind of unspectacular sloppiness that afflicts many parts of their play. (There were of course a bunch of wides too.) Promising positions slip, unexpected opportunities go underexploited. They’re an intimidating side in some ways, but not in the oppressive, smothering, machine-like way that great teams are intimidating.

Another great match. Another blinding Ben Stokes innings. Another Ashes defeat.



      Yes, Ged was in the Long Room…


      …on Days Two and Three…

      …but not on Day Five. He was in the Lower Tavern with Daisy on that day and has several independent witnesses.

      Ged has not been suspended.

      Ged wouldn’t behave like an a**ehole in the pavilion (or indeed anywhere else), whereas those who have been suspended (and probably others in the Long Room at that time), in Ged’s opinion, did behave like a**eholes.

      Out in the fresh air, the crowd was very vocal. “it’s like being at Edgbaston again” was Daisy’s take on the exhilarating scenes. Ged has no problem with that.

      Why is Ged writing in the third person this morning? I have no idea. I’ll stop for now.

      Very much agree with KC’s analysis. I have just sent my take (with more excruciating detail) to Australia for some red teaming of my thoughts. More here anon no doubt.

  1. Is now a catch where the ball touches ground henceforth to be called an Elite Catch?

  2. The interesting bit on the last day was how quickly Australia were able to get Stokes’ wicket once they realized there’s other ways to get people out.

    But whatever, another great test match. Kudos to both these teams!

  3. Do I really have to side with either Australians or Tories?

    A plague on both their houses.

    1. No you do not have to side with either house, Daneel.

      As I sometimes find myself saying to Daisy, “just because that bunch of mendacious, dissembling lying-liars are usually wrong, does not mean that EVERYTHING that any of them ever say is wrong”.

      I would no more wish for the Tory Government (or Tory party) to be custodians of THE LINE than the Aussies.

      On that topic, the following KC piece (reasonably recent ie the last few years) sprung to my mind in this context. It suggests that THE LINE might be fuzzy or possibly even a curve:

  4. I have spent the last few days in a cave in Solihull, meditating and trying to find spiritual guidance. There has been much to unpack. Normally a test match / series is either Grrrrrreat, or it is Awwwwwwful. This time it is neither of these.

    Let me explain. Bairstow was unsportsmanned out, but was an idiot for thinking an Australian wicketkeeper (that’s wicketkeeper) could be sporting. So on this subject, I don’t know what I think. English aggressive batting tactics have been the direct cause of most of the wickets, but have magnificently dug us out of a hole, the hole created by our aggressive batting tactics. On this subject also, I don’t know what to think. Bowling 98% of deliveries short is just stupid / genius, and is completely inventive / stolen from the Aussies. This leaves me not able to know what to think.

    I love the way England are playing right now, but we are two-nil down after two matches of a five-match series. It’s the score that matters, not the method. The method has kept us fighting against a very good Aussie side, placing us with good chance of winning both matches in the final stages. It’s the way we are playing that matters, not the score. It’s clear that we need to change our approach somewhat, but whatever we do we must not change our approach. That would be madness. It would be just what the Australians want us to do, that or the opposite of it.

    Ultimately, my meditation has led me to the following conclusion – that a) caves are bloody uncomfortable, and b) the only answers meditating gives you are the sort of answers only found in that storehouse of clarity – Zen mysticism. So here we go. First, some Sun Tzu. Then a kōan. And finally, natch, a haiku.

    England must do that which discomfits their opponents the most, even if their opponents don’t know what that is.

    Monk – Master, what is the nature of Bazball?
    Buddha-master – 155 not out, run out without facing a ball.

    England play the game
    Stokes risks everything to win
    And also to lose

  5. I have a couple of problems with “Bazball”.

    One, its called “Bazball” (as if no one has ever played like that before and this particular England team are the first to think of it) and that annoys me so much that for the first time ever I want the Aussies to win the Ashes.

    Two, the approach appears to rely on good batting conditions and heroic performances from at least one player, preferably two (Root is often one of the players, so the rest of the team just needs to put together one). I would quite like to see what “Bazball” does on a wicket that assists movement or very overcast conditions that aid swing (or for that matter, on one of those under prepared wickets in India where the game’s done in 3 days)

    Also, pitch it up, jeez!

  6. On “Bazball” being nothing new – the frequent references to Gilbert Jessop’s fastest century record sometimes make me wonder if it’s actually a very old-fashioned way of playing. (Coming soon, the time-traveling cricket sci-fi film about Bazball, “What’s Eating Gilbert Jessop?”)

    But some things about the last year do seem unusual, at least. Yes, many sides have played positively, even fearlessly. But few have publicly said “it’s only a game, entertainment is more important than winning”. I think that is what I like most about it. Blaspheming in the church of very very serious professional sport.

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