The men at the forefront of England’s red-ball revolution – Ben Stokes, Brendon McCullum and Rob Key – have made it clear they would like to see their dynamic approach to the game replicated across the county network.
Players from within the England dressing room have been invited to spread the word while back with their clubs and a get-together of first-class coaches and directors of cricket earlier this year saw Zoom presentations from Stokes and McCullum advocating their new methods.
‘Bazball’ was the talk of the shires in the build-up to the 2023 season, but what do the numbers tell us about its impact on the LV= County Championship ahead of the first Test of the summer?
It was perhaps ambitious to expect the first phase of the county season to hit the heights of England’s most frenzied scoring, particularly with soft early-season pitches and a lively Dukes ball for 2023. Stokes’ England reached a crescendo in Pakistan, when they scored at 5.50 runs per over – the highest ever in a series of three or more Tests – but unsurprisingly that bar has proved tough to meet.
Division Two pace-setters Durham lead the way, scoring their 3,357 runs at a lively 4.20, but the only other side to go at more than four an over, Yorkshire, have had a very different experience. They are tracking at 4.09 but have scored only 2,229 runs in total and are winless in eighth place in the second tier.
Another eight teams are scoring at more that 3.50 an over, while Division One’s bottom club Northamptonshire are outliers having made their runs at a relatively pedestrian 2.82.
The Kia Oval rises to applaud @OPope32 👏
What an incredible partnership of 193 between Pope & Sibley 👊
— Surrey Cricket (@surreycricket) April 16, 2023
Stokes has repeatedly said where runs are concerned he is just as interested in ‘how?’ as ‘how many?’, challenging Test hopefuls to catch the eye with dashing displays. Durham wicketkeeper Ollie Robinson has done more than anyone else to live up to that billing, scoring 465 runs from 527 balls for a strike rate of 88.23 runs per 100 balls.
In the top flight two players already inked into the Test XI have carried the torch, Ben Duckett scoring 401 runs with a strike rate of 74.39 while Stokes’ new vice-captain Ollie Pope has 379 and 74.16. Unlike them, Somerset’s Tom Kohler-Cadmore has yet to clear the 500-ball mark for the season but his combination of 348 runs at 80.55 marks him out for attention.
Dan Lawrence, called up as batting cover for the Ireland Test, is some way behind on a strike rate of 57.26, while Lancashire’s Josh Bohannon has 471 runs at 67.96. Dom Sibley, once a fixture at the top of England’s Test line-up, looks a long way back with his strike rate of 43.71 placing him close to the bottom of the ladder.
Win, lose or draw
A feature of England’s Test cricket over the past 12 months has been their stated aversion to draws. With an eye on entertainment and a belief that pushing hard for victory is worth the price of defeat, the McCullum era has effectively removed the idea of sharing the spoils.
While a few counties suggested they were willing to engage with the same philosophy, it has proved harder than expected. Heavy rain has wreaked havoc with fixtures, with some teams worse affected than others, while extending the number of runs required for bonus points has also made forcing results more taxing inside four days.
So far 25 games have been drawn out of 52 (11 in Division One, 14 in Division Two), with five from five for a well-fancied Lancashire side. Table-toppers Surrey and Durham are both rewarded for getting over the line four times in six attempts.