WHEN INDIA take on England in their second match of the hockey World Cup in Rourkela Sunday, they will run into 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 have reached the semifinals of the last three hockey World Cups. But coming into this edition, they have ditched their slightly conservative approach and transformed into one of the fiercest attacking units in world hockey.
This is evident from 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 Canada).
Huge win to start the #HWC2023 for England 💪 pic.twitter.com/85rOvTcjp5
— England Hockey (@EnglandHockey) January 13, 2023
India opened their World Cup campaign with a 2-0 win over a young Spanish side that looked overawed by the occasion. But England will be their toughest test of the group stage as well as the biggest hurdle to finish on top of the group and automatically qualify for the quarterfinals.
The shift in England’s philosophy came after the departure of former coach Danny Kerry and the arrival of Paul Revington before last year’s Commonwealth Games. “Much more free-flowing, more attacking, more aggressive,” Sam Ward, one of England’s most prolific players, was quoted as saying by The Times, London. “We have gone down the ‘Bazball’ mentality.”
Since adopting the buccaneering ‘Bazball’ approach, inspired by coach Brendon McCullum, the England cricket team has metamorphosed from one win in 17 Tests to nine wins in their last 10 matches.
Ward, the hockey team forward, said ‘Bazball’ best defines his team’s philosophy as well.
The style of England’s cricket and hockey teams has indeed been similar. Both play positively, have shown the ability to soak up the pressure and remain patient as well as possess the kind of ruthlessness that was previously not associated with them. That’s how England gave Australia a scare during the Commonwealth Games and defeated former Olympic champions 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 feel the same as Stokes does about cricket. We want to excite people, we want to entertain people,” Ward said.
The excitement and entertainment levels have shot up, particularly when England and India have met each other of late. All their recent encounters have been high-scoring, with India holding a slight edge. The fact that India coach Graham Reid swears by attacking hockey as well means the crucial Pool D match between the two sides could once again be a high-scoring, high-stakes thriller.
The Pool D table in the FIH Men’s World Cup as it stands after yesterday’s games, we look forward to tomorrow’s game against India at 1:30pm. pic.twitter.com/O9992xOAxg
— England Hockey (@EnglandHockey) January 14, 2023
The winner of Sunday’s match will be the favourite to top the pool, thus ensuring a direct spot in the quarterfinals. On the other hand, the team that finishes second or third in the group will have to go through the tricky playoff route just to reach the quarters, where they could bump into the reigning world and Olympic champions Belgium.
It will also be a fascinating clash of ideas – England’s transformation from into an ultra-attacking outfit has coincided with India putting a lot more focus on tightening its defence without giving up on their natural attacking instincts.
This was evident from the way the two sides played their separate games on Friday. England were ruthless against World Cup debutants Wales, 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 the win over Spain would be a confidence-booster, Sunday evening’s match in front of another sell-out crowd will be a battle of equals — between the teams ranked fifth (England) and sixth in the world. And as much as the ‘Bazball’ approach of Revington’s England, it’ll also be a real test of the defensive solidity of Reid’s India.
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