The BazBall shuffle

England's war on Test bowling continues.

The MCC have come out very strongly as pro-Mankadding if batters can’t stay in the crease. Here is Abhishek and I going deep on the history of it.

The keeper is up at the stumps, and we have a seam bowler on a green top on the morning of day one. When you stand at the stumps, you basically take away caught behind, as unless it hits the middle of the keeper's gloves it is going down. So you rarely see this happening on this kind of pitch on day one.

And the thing is, if you watched the end of the previous New Zealand-England Test, you will have noticed that game ended with something similar.

Other than the two teams, the one constant was the player involved, Daryl Mitchell. On one occasion, he was bowling, and on the other, he was batting.

But he wasn't the Kiwi who really inspired this.

If you have watched England play in the BazBall era, you will be focusing on things like Harry Brook backing away before Wagner has bowled, and then slogging a length ball over midwicket for six. But not everything is like this. There is something else they do at a high rate and it's aggressive but in a low-key way for them.

Their batters are leaving their crease to quick bowlers. The BazBall shuffle.

This is something that used to be in fashion in the 1990s for ODI cricket. Coming down the wicket and trying to whack things everywhere. The idea then was this was a good way to attack, which is kind of like believing that Happy Gilmore's golf stroke is better than Tiger Wood's. By the 2000s we saw it far less, and now you are more likely to see a player go back in their crease than ever charge a bowler in white ball cricket.

And so why is England using this method in Tests?

They are not even attacking that much. It is not like Dean Jones coming down the wicket to slog back in the old days. Often it's a small shuffle, that is followed by a nudge or even a defensive shot.

It is not that new to England, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler sometimes tried this. They often hinted it was when the bowling was slower, or the pitch was, and they wanted to speed things up.

Stokes may still be doing that, but England has four other players regularly coming down the wicket.

And this was a tricky one to work out because no company that I can find regularly follow if the batter has walked down the wicket or left their crease to seam. But I knew it was a pattern, because in my notes, and I had Ollie Pope, Ben Foakes, Zak Crawley, and Ben Stokes down in my notes as players who were now doing this. I missed one as well because it turns up Joe Root is doing it also.

I found this all out when Soham from Cricviz looked up something for me. The original question was what the average interception point is of a ball from seamers in the Bazball era. But that didn't quite work, because for a backfoot player like Root, where he intercepts with the ball will be deeper than other players anytime he is not trying the BazBall shuffle.

So I asked next how often major batters since 01 Jun 2022 intercept with the ball further down the wicket than 2.25 metres. The reason for that was it is hard to strike the ball there without taking a shuffle down.

There are things this doesn't account for, like if the batter is already out of their crease. And tall batters with unusually long strides.

But the England players certainly are trying to change the length. They are usually doing this early in their innings so that bowlers can't find a good spot to keep them down.

The Pakistani batters have the most forward interception points, but that is because of batting out of their crease on often incredibly friendly wickets. And some other outliers are interesting. But half of the 36 batters who have faced 200 balls of pace strike the ball more than 10% of the time 2.25m down the wicket. England has five above 15%. If you stretch it out more, Stuart Broad is also over it.

This is not an accident. This is a plan.

Today New Zealand were on top early, and England were fighting for that middle of the pitch. Brook (and Bairstow) are the only two players who don't really use this method much looking at CricViz's data.

Again, today Brook did his own thing.

Premeditated, swinging at wide ones, and punching the ball in the air in a low-risk way. It is Brook in fourth gear from white ball cricket. If that makes it sound less sexy than it was, I am sorry. But a bit like when New Zealand all got together to talk about Brook and ended up shrugging, I have seen Brook batting and I don't really know what to say about it.

What was most interesting was how he faced Wagner by backing away in total fearlessness of what will happen if the ball wasn't short. Now some of what suggests that Wagner's lack of pace is catching up to him. But it is also an England batter changing what the delivery is. The bowler has to react to him. In this case, the batter has completely changed his plan at the last moment. That is a white ball thing.

It just doesn't look right. But what Brook did is easy to see. It slaps you in the face, but not every part of what England are doing is this obvious.

Root's innings didn't have the big bangs, or even the strike rate, that modern England is known for. But it did have the Bazball shuffle.

Earlier Ollie Pope had been coming down the wicket, as had Crawley, ever so briefly.

Root continued this team plan of never letting anyone bowl at one spot. His normal interception point is 1.98M from the stumps. Today after 90 balls his average was 2.71m. That is almost a metre more, and by far the most he has ever been hitting pace bowlers down the wicket.

Because he is Joe Root he would also do things like start out of the crease, take a step down the wicket, and then stop, and go back half a pace. That is changing the length of the pitch three times. How can you find the right zone there?

Well, New Zealand didn't.

And that is the interesting thing about England's method, they don't let you bowl line and length. Even if you are Neil Wagner and your length is at the armpit. They will risk hitting boundaries where the odds are in their favour.

But they are not the only players using this new method. Because Daryl Mitchell is doing it too. In fact, Pope comes down the wicket the most of the England players, 23%. But that is nothing compared to Mitchell who strikes seamers more than 2.25M 61% of the time. Nearly 20 per cent more than second place.

Mitchell is a special case because he is tall, he bats out of his crease, and he comes down the wicket. He's a triple threat and that is why his inception points are crazy. But in the Bazball era, he is another who is making a lot of runs. Including against England, where they struggled to find a length against him.

But he is not the only important New Zealander in this story.

By 2010 coming down the wicket and changing the bowler's length had fallen out of fashion in white ball cricket. But there were a couple of outliers, and one massively loud one, England head coach Brendon McCullum.

You could argue he also would back away like Brook as well. But for me, McCullum coming down the wicket was one of the most notable styles he had. Like a politician, if he was unhappy with a bowler's line of questioning, he would change the questions.

McCullum was the keeper with the bat would run away from his stumps. Now because of that, keepers are coming up to them. It is incredible how many weird ways England - and Baz - are changing Test cricket.