Ganguly: No respite for batsmen from India spinners
For most people, a car accident on a treacherous stretch of road would teach them to slow down.
But not Mumbai taxi drivers, it seems, nor Trevor Bayliss.
For Bayliss has reacted to England’s defeat in the third Test by suggesting England’s batsmen should be more positive. The fault, he believes, is that they were too defensive in Mohali.
It didn’t seem Moeen Ali was too defensive when he was caught at deep backward square in the first innings, or mid-on in the second. And it didn’t seem Jos Buttler was too defensive when he was caught at extra cover in the first innings and deep midwicket in the second. The same might be said about Ben Stokes’ first-innings dismissal, when he charged down the pitch and was stumped, or Joe Root’s, when he missed an attempted pull against the first ball of spin he faced.
But Bayliss is convinced that the secret of England’s success is to be found in them playing more positive – and, specifically, less defensive – cricket.
“I thought we gifted them a number of our wickets,” Bayliss said, as he reflected on the Test. “We’ve got to make them work a little harder.
“When we have been a little bit more defensive, we look like wickets waiting to happen. As soon as we’re a little bit more positive, rotating the strike and hitting a boundary when the opportunity comes, it puts pressure on the opposition.
“Yes, it might get you out once or twice. But with the batting order we’ve got, there’s going to be a number of guys that do score runs, and that puts some pressure on the opposition.”
We all know what Bayliss means, of course. He means that bowlers can be hit off a length or close fielders pushed back. He means that, if batsmen can make the bowlers’ lives uncomfortable, they are unable to go on the attack and batting becomes more straightforward.
It might be relevant, though, that the greatest run-scorer in England’s Test history is the most defensive player in the side. And it might be relevant that, while England have tried several aggressive opening partners for Alastair Cook, it has been Haseeb Hameed, the man with the tightest defensive technique, who looks most likely to fill the spot on a permanent basis.
Might the approach of Bayliss and Cook be at odds here? While Cook called upon his team to block their way to safety in Vizag, Bayliss always seems inclined to take the more aggressive option. Might we be coming to the time when this side – Cook’s for so long – is changing in nature and needs a different leader to ensure a clear message? It is too soon to say for sure, but they do seem to have a notably different ethos to batting and if there is one thing a dressing room desires, it is clarity.
A man apart: Trevor Bayliss conducts England practice in Mumbai © Getty Images
Bayliss has been successful in a couple of important areas. He has created an environment in which his teams feel both relaxed and motivated – which is probably the key role of a coach at this level – and he has, in limited-overs cricket, established a clear ethos: all-out attack. And while the change in approach in limited-overs cricket may have begun just before Bayliss took charge – Paul Farbrace was stand-in coach for the watershed series against New Zealand – he has consolidated and improved it. He deserves credit for those things.
But the longer he has been in office, the more the faults become apparent.
For a start, he has little idea of the best players in county cricket. He is not really to blame for this – the England schedule is unrelenting and there is no way he can become steeped in the domestic game as an international coach should be – but it is a reason why his appointment was, in some ways, flawed. Maybe it is why England seem to pick their spinners by looking at the batting averages.
His approach to support coaches is also questionable. While there are good motivations for reducing the number of support staff travelling with the squad – the aim was to make the dressing room a little quieter, the message to the players a bit more consistent and to encourage them to think for themselves more – it has also had less welcome consequences.
The absence of a full-time fielding coach, for example (Bayliss and Farbrace now lead the fielding sessions), might well be one of the reasons that discipline has become so inconsistent, while the improvement of the spinners (especially Adil Rashid) since the short-term appointment of Saqlain Mushtaq begs the question: why do England not have access to such expertise more often?
Most of all, Bayliss’s approach to Test cricket looks unsophisticated. In a format of the game where patience and discipline have always been important, he instead preaches the virtues of aggression and positivity. Instead of building the batsmen’s games from a defensive base – like Hameed – he seems more inclined to stuff the line-up with sufficient aggressive players and allrounders that the inevitable failures of some can be mitigated by others. At times, Bayliss sounds like the coach shouting: ‘Score at 10 an over, but don’t get out’. At times, he seems like the man driving home as fast as he can to get through the fog.
Can that approach work? It’s entertaining, for sure, and it may bring the best out of some players. But as they have found in Australia of late, the best Test batsmen are not necessarily the ones with the greatest array of strokes or the ability to hit the ball furthest. They are ones who can see off the new ball and have the technique to play the spinning one. They are the ones who know which balls to play and have the patience and confidence to weather the tough periods. They are ones who have the defensive techniques that allow them still to be at the crease when the poor ball is delivered.
But, not for the first time, it seems England have embraced an Australian approach – on this occasion, an overly aggressive attitude to batting – just as the rest of the world has realised its drawbacks.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
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