The new ultra-aggression of England’s hockey team has been adopted by the Brendon McCullum-coached England men’s Test team.
WHEN INDIA plays England in their second World Cup match on Sunday in Rourkela, they will face a team that has taken a leaf out of the country’s trendsetting cricket team — the ultra-aggressive approach, especially when batting, known as ‘Bazball’.
England has made the semifinals of the last three World Cups in hockey. However, they have abandoned their slightly conservative approach in this edition and transformed into one of the fiercest attacking units in world hockey.
This is evidenced by some of their recent scorelines, including in Great Britain colours at the Olympics: 3-0 (vs. the Netherlands), 2-2 (vs. Argentina), 6-3 (vs. South Africa), 2-3 (vs. Australia), and 11-2 (vs. Japan) (vs Canada).
India began their World Cup campaign with a 2-0 victory over a young Spanish team that appeared overwhelmed by the occasion. However, England will be their toughest test of the group stage, as well as the biggest obstacle to finishing first and automatically qualifying for the quarterfinals.
England’s philosophy shifted following the departure of former coach Danny Kerry and the arrival of Paul Revington prior to last year’s Commonwealth Games. “Much more free-flowing, attacking, and aggressive,” said Sam Ward, one of England’s most prolific players, according to The Times of London. “We’ve adopted the ‘Bazball’ mentality.”
The England cricket team has gone from one win in 17 Tests to nine wins in their last ten matches since adopting the buccaneering ‘Bazball’ approach inspired by coach Brendon McCullum.
Ward, the hockey team’s forward, believes ‘Bazball’ best describes his team’s philosophy.
England’s cricket and hockey teams have played in a similar manner. Both play positively, have shown the ability to absorb pressure and remain patient, and have a ruthlessness that was previously unknown to them. That’s how England surprised Australia at the Commonwealth Games and defeated former Olympic champions the Netherlands and Argentina in the FIH Pro League last month.
“It’s not just the style on the pitch, it’s also the philosophy — removing the fear of failure, just like (captain) Ben (Stokes) and Brendon have done. We share Stokes’ enthusiasm for cricket. “We want to excite and entertain people,” Ward explained.
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The level of excitement and entertainment has increased recently, particularly when England and India have met. All of their recent meetings have been high-scoring affairs, with India holding a slight advantage. Because India coach Graham Reid believes in attacking hockey, the crucial Pool D match between the two sides could be another high-scoring, high-stakes thriller.
The winner of Sunday’s match will be the favourite to win the pool and advance directly to the quarterfinals. The team that finishes second or third in the group, on the other hand, will have to go through the difficult playoff route just to reach the quarterfinals, where they could face reigning world and Olympic champions Belgium.
It will also be an intriguing clash of ideas, as England’s transformation into an ultra-attacking outfit has coincided with India putting a lot more emphasis on tightening its defence without sacrificing their natural attacking instincts.
This was clear from how the two teams played their respective games on Friday. England dominated Wales in their World Cup debut, winning 5-0. India, playing a far more superior opponent, looked more preoccupied with not conceding a goal, which resulted in what Reid described as his team’s “best defensive performance since the Tokyo Olympics”.
While a win over Spain would be a confidence booster, Sunday’s match in front of another sell-out crowd will be a battle of equals — between the world’s fifth and sixth-ranked teams. And, as much as Revington’s England’s ‘Bazball’ approach will be tested, Reid’s India’s defensive solidity will be put to the test.