Why England will do more of the “Bazball” style
Ben Stokes didn’t act like he was upset about losing, even if he was.
The England captain said after his team’s 43-run loss in the second Ashes Test at Lord’s on Sunday, “It’s very exciting to know that the way we’re playing cricket right now couldn’t be better for the situation we’re in. We have to win these three games to get this urn back.”
For Stokes, the key to beating Australia’s 2-0 lead in the series is in one place: his thoughts.
“We’ll keep giving each player the best chance to know exactly what they want to do before they go out,” he said.
Some people aren’t sure how clear England’s thought is. Former England captain Michael Vaughan called the team’s first innings at Lords “stupid,” and another of Stokes’ predecessors, Michael Atherton, said what he saw was “not brave or bold,” but just “bad cricket.”
It’s not a big surprise that Stokes and Test coach Brendon McCullum give their players a lot of freedom. Since they started working together in May 2022, words like “fear of failure” and “pressure to perform” have been thrown out.
Before the pair joined forces, England had only won one of 17 Test matches. Since then, they have won 11 of their last 15 red-ball games, playing a style of cricket that may yet change the game.
In 2022, the run rate for the Test team was the best it had been in 112 years. The style of play at Edgbaston and Lord’s has charmed millions of fans.
But there’s more to the story than the soundbites and the “figureheads” of the team.
People behind the scenes have helped the team change just as much as those who are in the spotlight.
The “team behind the team” has helped create an exciting, new culture by doing things like preparing young players mentally for the stresses of an Ashes series and getting rid of the “drill sergeant” mindset of previous teams. In the next three matches, this culture will be put to the test more than ever before.
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As Stokes and McCullum carefully watch Stuart Broad bowl, he is being watched from behind the nets by a less well-known English player.
A normal day at work for Jon Marzetti looks like a dream come true for cricket fans. Most of the time, the sports psychologist is on or near the training field, talking with players like Broad, Stokes, and McCullum.
It’s where he does 90% of his work that has to do with performance, like talking to players about things like focus and confidence or giving the coaching team advice on how to get their point across in the best way.
Marzetti joined the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) at the same time that Stokes and McCullum joined forces in May of last year. This helped Stokes and McCullum, as well as Marzetti’s peers in the back room, change the way Tests are set up.
“Starting at the same time that Baz and Stokes took over was really helpful,” Marzetti said before this summer’s Ashes.
“It gave us a chance to talk about things like, ‘How do you want this place to feel? What do you want people to feel when they play for England?’
“The vision was very clear. We put a lot of value on relationships, the style of cricket we want to play, and how we want our cricket to make people feel.”
Marzetti is responsible for three different things. He is in charge of helping stars like Stokes and McCullum talk to their players in the best way possible.
He also gives players what he calls “targeted player support.” For example, he helps players move from the second-string Lions team to the Test level.
But the most well-known part of Marzetti’s role may be the third one.
“Cricket presents unique challenges to wellbeing and mental health because of the amount of time away from home and travel,” he said. “This is a key area that we try to include in our work.”