Opinion: England introduce dash and flash to Test cricket

The last month in England has produced never-seen-before scenes in Test cricket as the team representing the home of the stiff upper lip, and historically often dominated by dour Yorkshireman and Lancastrians, have pulled off four successive fourth-innings run-chases with all the dash and aggression of a limited-overs game.

England have chased down four targets in excess of 250, the first team in the history of Test cricket to do so in a calendar year, and they have done so extraordinarily quickly.

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Traditional Test logic is that scoring anything more than 250 in the fourth innings is never easy, but England have won by seven wickets twice and by five wickets twice in beating New Zealand 3-0 and now levelling their postponed series against India 2-2.

Their run-rates in those innings have been 4.93 chasing 378 against the powerful India attack, and 3.53, 5.98 and 5.44 against the New Zealand bowling line-up that won the World Test Championship last year.

These extraordinary achievements have come under the refreshing new positive philosophy of coach Brendon McCullum and captain Ben Stokes. It has been called BazBall in honour of the Kiwi-born coach, but it is also a reflection of how captain Stokes, one of the great all-rounders, has always tried to play the game.

Having seen off the two teams that played in the inaugural World Test Championship final, England are now heading into a series against South Africa, currently second in the standings.

Don’t forget the Proteas

Many critics will be tempted to write off the Proteas as having no chance, but let’s not forget they beat India in a series at the start of the year and then drew with the Black Caps in New Zealand. And South Africa have a history of taming teams that have set out to play ultra-aggressively against them, thanks to their perennially strong bowling attacks.

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Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje are amongst the fastest bowlers in the world, and left-armer Marco Jansen is an exciting prospect who could surprise the English.

But it could be an unfamiliar strength that the Proteas turn to: In Keshav Maharaj and Simon Harmer, South Africa have two world-class spinners and, with the pitches in England starting to dry out and take turn in August, their upcoming contest with the mighty English batting order should be memorable.

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