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England’s missed opportunities under Bazball

England’s third-straight Test defeat in India can be viewed through two very different lenses. Both equally justifiable.

India have now won 17 straight series at home, an utterly formidable prospect in their own conditions, and England have been competitive throughout all four Tests. Though their five-wicket defeat in Ranchi saw them lose the series, it’s just the first of the Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes reign – at the seventh time of asking.

Yet, after a period of unprecedented success to start Stokes’ captaincy, with 10 wins from England’s first 11 Tests, only four have followed from the last 11 – their most recent series triumph coming over a year ago in Pakistan.

“I feel they’ve given a pretty good account of themselves,” Michael Atherton said on the latest Sky Sports Cricket Podcast. “It has been competitive and India know they’ve been in a scrap.

“In the end they’ve just not quite been good enough. There’s kind of a lingering regret over the opportunities they’ve missed.”

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Michael Atherton says there will be ‘lingering regret’ for England after India wrapped up a series win with a game to spare.

‘Missed opportunities’ has proven a familiar narrative from England’s most recent Test defeats and, here, we’ve picked out some of their most notable near misses of the Bazball era.

England beaten by one run in Wellington!

New Zealand vs England: Second Test, Wellington – NZ win by one run

England 435-8 declared in first innings: Harry Brook (186), Joe Root (153no); Tim Southee (5-24)

New Zealand 209 all out in first innings: Tim Southee (73); Stuart Broad (4-61), James Anderson (3-37), Jack Leach (3-80)

New Zealand 483 all out in second innings (f/o): Kane Williamson (132), Tom Blundell (90), Tom Latham (81); Jack Leach (5-157)

England 256 all out in second innings:, Joe Root (95), Ben Foakes (35), Ben Stokes (33); Neil Wagner (4-62), Tim Southee (3-45)

One run. One measly run is all England were denied by as they tied their two-match series in New Zealand in February of last year, beaten by the barest of margins in one of the greatest Test matches of all time.

England could literally do no wrong heading to Wellington for the second Test, fresh from securing a historic 3-0 series sweep in Pakistan and having hammered the hosts by 267 runs in the first Test in Mount Maunganui.

Harry Brook of England celebrates his century on the first day of the second cricket test against New Zealand at the Basin Reserve in Wellington, New Zealand, Friday, Feb. 24, 2023. (Andrew Cornaga/Photosport via AP)
Image: Harry Brook celebrates his magnificent hundred in England’s first innings in the second Test against New Zealand at Wellington

As Joe Root (153no) and Harry Brook (186) combined to put on a staggering 302-run partnership in the first innings, England then bowling New Zealand out for 209 to enforce the follow on, it looked for all the world that another series whitewash was within their grasp.

The Kiwis had other ideas, however. Kane Williamson dug in to score a magnificent 132 as the hosts blunted the England attack for a massive 162.3 overs in the second innings – Jack Leach tasked with 61.3 of those – and set Stokes’ side a stiff target of 258 to chase.

The tourists were left in disarray when reduced to 80-5 early on the fifth morning, before Root (95) and Stokes (33) combined for a sixth-wicket stand of 121 that was seemingly steering the ship to victory.

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - FEBRUARY 28: Neil Wagner of New Zealand celebrates his wicket of Joe Root of England during day five of the Second Test Match between New Zealand and England at Basin Reserve on February 28, 2023 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)
Image: Neil Wagner took four wickets as New Zealand secured a dramatic one-run win over England in Wellington

Enter Neil Wagner (4-62). New Zealand’s left-arm-fast enforcer bounced out both Stokes and Root in consecutive overs and then claimed the crucial final wicket of James Anderson with England one short – the Black Caps becoming just the fourth team in Test history to win a match after following on.

Stokes’ bold declaration at Edgbaston

That declaration. You know the one, Root left 118 not out as England opted to declare on 393-8 and have four overs at Australia late on day one of the 2023 Ashes. That was the talking point as Stokes’ side were narrowly defeated by two wickets in the first Test at Edgbaston.

Sky Sports’ Nasser Hussain certainly wasn’t surprised by the move, telling of a prophetic conversation he’d had with England’s captain previously. “I said to Stokes a month ago, ‘If you were eight down in the first innings, would you declare?'” Hussain said at the end of day one. “He said, ‘Yeah, why would we send Anderson out to bat?'”

On a great pitch for batting, Usman Khawaja then cracked a magnificent 141 to get Australia up near England’s total, the visitors ultimately succumbing seven runs short before England were then reduced to 28-2 in overcast conditions late on day three.

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Joe Root stunned the crowd by bringing out the reverse-scoop to start day four of the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston!

Root wrestled back the momentum in some style, nailing that much-debated reverse-scoop of his for six in just the second over of the fourth day as England set Australia 281 in the fourth innings – evoking memories of the 282 the tourists famously fell two short of reeling in on the same ground during the 2005 series.

The finish on day five proved to be just as dramatic, nail-biting and nerve-jangling as that thrilling conclusion from 18 years prior, with Australia captain Pat Cummins (44no) and Nathan Lyon (16no) rescuing their side from 227-8 with an unbroken, match-winning 55-run partnership.

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Catch up with highlights of the thrilling final day of the first Ashes Test where it was first blood to Australia at Edgbaston.

Asked after the game if he had any regrets, Stokes said he had not one and that the move “sent a message to Australia about how we want to take them on”.

‘Reckless’ England waste opportunity at Lord’s

And England certainly didn’t relent from their aggressive approach in the second Test of the series at Lord’s but, as they fell behind 2-0 in the series with a 43-run defeat, the critics started to circle.

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Michael Atherton and Eoin Morgan have their say on England’s first-innings batting collapse during the second Ashes Test at Lord’s.

Coming under most scrutiny was the way in which England wasted a golden opportunity when well-placed at 188-1 in response to Australia’s first-innings 416. Three wickets fell for 34 late on day two – Ben Duckett out two short of a maiden Ashes ton – and then a further six for 47 as the hosts coughed up a 91-run advantage to their opponents, their batters repeatedly falling to the short ball.

Atherton told Sky Sports at the time: “If you go back to last summer, England’s approach is one of calculated aggression. Here, it seems to be all-out aggression, no matter what. They were just the wrong side of reckless in that innings.”

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Kevin Pietersen was furious with England’s performance on day one of the second Ashes Test at Lord’s.

Kevin Pietersen, who’d called England “a shambles” earlier in the Test, added: “I know it’s all about Bazball, and ‘we’re going to play this way, we will always chase a win’. But can they, against this Australian side, tinker with what they’re doing, because what they have done this week and last week [at Edgbaston] certainly didn’t work?”

England almost fought their way back into the Test, with Stokes nearly pulling off the unthinkable to better even his Headingley heroics from 2019 with a frankly ridiculous final-day 155 that contained nine sixes and as many boundaries.

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Watch the best of Ben Stokes’ stunning 155 from 214 balls, including 9 sixes and 9 fours on day five of the second Ashes Test at Lord’s.

There would also be a controversial stumping of Jonny Bairstow on that fifth day that would rile Stuart Broad, spark a verbal scrab in the Lord’s Pavilion between members and the Australian team, and even see politicians wade into the debate. But, really, the damage was done by England’s ‘reckless’ batting in the first innings.

Bazball suffers first series defeat in India

Bazball looked to be back after two wins in three to close the Ashes – only rain denying England at Old Trafford – and a stunning success at Hyderabad to open the series in India. But some familiar failings have been exposed in the three-straight defeats to follow, most notably the dominant positions thrown away in each of the last two Tests in Rajkot and Ranchi.

India vs England: Third Test, Rajkot – India win by 434 runs

India 445 all out in first innings: Rohit Sharma (131), Ravindra Jadeja (112), Sarfaraz Khan (62); Mark Wood (4-114), Rehan Ahmed (2-85)

England 319 all out in first innings: Ben Duckett (153), Ben Stokes (41); Mohammed Siraj (4-84)

India 430-4 declared in second innings: Yashasvi Jaiswal (214no), Shubman Gill (91no), Sarfaraz Khan (68no); Tom Hartley (1-78)

England 122 all out in second innings: Mark Wood (33); Ravindra Jadeja (5-41), Kuldeep Yadav (2-19)

Rajkot stirred memories of that Lord’s defeat last summer as England subsided from 224-2 to 319 all out in reply to India’s first-innings 445 – Root receiving widespread criticism for sparking the collapse when falling to that very same reverse-scoop shot that served him so well in the Ashes, the tourists ultimately succumbing to a massive 434-run defeat.

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Nasser Hussain and Michael Atherton say they were disappointed with the timing of the shot which saw Joe Root lose his wicket in the first innings of the third Test against India.

“Root’s dismissal sort of sums up where we are with Bazball. It will thrill and frustrate in equal measure,” Hussain told Sky Sports. “When he played it at Edgbaston, I didn’t mind it at all… it sent a real message to everyone in the changing room that England’s best player is going to take on Australia. Root will be sitting in his room tonight going, ‘I think I got that one wrong’.”

India vs England: Fourth Test, Ranchi – India win by five wickets

England 353 all out in first innings: Joe Root (122no), Ollie Robinson (58); Ravindra Jadeja (4-67), Akash Deep (3-83)

India 307 all out in first innings: Dhruv Jurel (90), Yashasvi Jaiswal (73); Shoaib Bashir (5-119), Tom Hartley (3-68), James Anderson (2-48)

England 145 all out in second innings: Zak Crawley (60), Jonny Bairstow (30); Ravichandran Ashwin (5-51), Kuldeep Yadav (4-22)

India 192-5 in second innings: Rohit Sharma (55), Shubman Gill (52no), Dhruv Jurel (39no); Shoaib Bashir (3-79)

Ranchi was even more a case of ‘what could have been’. Root responded to his doubters in the best possible way with a sublime 122 not out in the first innings and England entered the third morning eyeing a sizeable lead after reducing India to 219-7 in reply to their score of 353.

But Dhruv Jurel resisted, and not for the last time, as his 90 runs ate at England’s advantage, reducing it to 46 before the visitors suffered an almighty second-innings collapse of seven for 35 in the face of spin bowling of the highest order on a helpful surface – Ravichandran Ashwin taking 5-51 and Kuldeep Yadav 4-22.

England’s much greener spin twins of Shoaib Bashir (3-79) and Tom Hartley (1-70) did their best to drag the team back into things as India lost five for 36 to stumble to 120-5 in pursuit of 192 to win, but Shubman Gill (52no) and Jurel (39no) dug in to see them over the line.

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Sky Sports’ Nasser Hussain hails the performance of both India and England over a thrilling Test series and says that the hosts are deserved winners.

Despite another defeat, McCullum remains bullish about his team’s prospects. The England head coach said: “We’ve lost this series and we didn’t win the Ashes, but we’re a better cricket team than we were 18 months ago and we’ve got opportunity in the next 18 months to do some pretty special s***.”

Follow over-by-over text commentary from the fifth and final Test between India and England, in Dharamshala, live on skysports.com and the Sky Sports App from 3.30am on Thursday, March 7 (first ball at 4am).

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