The Gladiators of Test Cricket

Imagine a Test match team that has Virendra Sehwag and Mathew Hayden opening the innings, followed by Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar, then supported by AB de Villiers and Ben Stokes at numbers five and six. And we are not done yet, in walks Gilly – Andrew Gilchrist followed by two more superstars in Wasim Akram and the late Shane Warne. The bottom two are made up of Trent Boult and Jofra Archer. This will be my team, if asked to list down the most attacking Test team of the players I have enjoyed watching since the turn of this century. A selection based on the template of playing attacking and fearless cricket adopted by Brendon McCullum and what is now popularly called Bazball style of Test match cricket.

Personally, I don’t like the term “Bazball” as it actually undermines the much broader vision that McCullum and Stokes have laid down for English cricket. Why just English cricket, in fact for world cricket which has been struggling to get spectators to watch the oldest and the longest format of cricket. Their vision may perhaps help revive the fortunes of Test cricket which both the fans and administrators world over have combined to destroy. England’s new mantra as has been consistently demonstrated over the last ten or more Test matches involves playing fearless cricket right from the word go. As a result, their batsmen have shown an attitude beyond just positive intent which comparatively sounds a very sluggish term. They have walked on to the field as Gladiators eager to take on the enemy. Looking them in the eye and then dispatching the ball to every corner of the field. It does not involve slogging but the calculated audacity of a batsman like Zak Crawley stepping out in the first over of a Test match and thrashing a fast bowler over his head. This was the same Zak Crawley who could not get his bat anywhere near the ball apart from edging it to the slips while facing the Aussie attack during the Ashes last winter.

McCullum and Stokes are the Disruptors in the world of Test cricket. Just as the agile and innovative new age firms have changed the rules of the game with unique and brash ways of doing business in an existing sector, so has the English Test team. They have changed the status quo. Their approach has given a gladiatorial confidence to their batsmen that allows them to play some unbelievable shots, ball after ball, session after session, without any fear. Imagine Surya Kumar Yadav playing his audacious range of shots not just for 20 overs but over a span of 90 overs in a day. The English batsmen are playing with no negative thoughts that can curb their attacking instinct as they look forward to taking on the bowlers and not waiting for the bowler to bowl a bad ball.

I came across an interesting concept called “swarm harmonizer” in Ed Smith’s new book, Making DecisionsThe book essentially talks about the advantages of combining an intuitive mind and your set of values with the data and algorithms available to arrive at the best possible decision. A decision or a set of decisions that are divergent from conventional wisdom. A swarm harmonizer is something or someone that improves the collective output of everything around it. The term derives, via biology and physics, from studying the coordinated movements of group animals. Players like Sam Curran, Kevin Pietersen, Ben Stokes, Kapil Dev, Imran Khan, Ian Botham, Ravi Jadeja and Shane Warne can be called swarm harmonizers. These players are 360-degree players and their mere presence can alter the course of the game – be it with their batting, bowling, fielding or captaincy in a few cases.

Many may question the presence of Sam Curran on this list. I had the same doubt when Smith used his name to explain the concept. But if you look at his stats across all formats of the game especially in the matches that England have won, you will stop questioning the logic. The other names have been added by me to emphasize the concept of a swarm harmonizer. In football, Kevin De Bruyne could be considered a swarm harmonizer for Manchester City, though he has not lived up to that title this season. In fact, Liverpool FC’s Premier League title in 2019-20 was partly based on the approach of finding players whose movement and understanding of space contributed to the whole team’s performance, over and above what could be captured in terms of individual metrics. Liverpool was looking for swarm harmonizers.    

This current England Test team is a team with multiple swarm harmonizers and as a result are able to play successfully adopting the tactics set by McCullum and Stokes. They are able to meet any challenge thrown at them, the recent one where they thrashed Pakistan 3-0, something which seemed impossible and is an aberration when any country plays Pakistan in Pakistan. Can India adopt this new English instinct of playing fearless cricket? Our team across all the three formats, needs to first develop a side with players who can play multiple roles and not specific roles. We need batters who can bat or bowlers who can bat and do so across the batting order. We are currently struggling with that. We are also spoilt for choice and this abundance of talent and choice is making things very difficult. But sadly we do not have a vision, as was highlighted in one of my earlier blogs.  A coherent vision combined with the plethora of talent at our disposal will make us the cricketing super power that everyone wants to see and enjoy. But we are busy chasing money and not a strong cricketing future.

One must remember that impact in real life tends to be determined by insight and authenticity and by confidence and voice.


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