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England opener Alex Lees embraces ‘Bazball’ as he turns from tortoise to hare at top of the order

England on course for record run chase against India, with openers Alex Lees and Zak Crawley setting up innings with 107-run stand; Lees races to 44-ball half-century while Crawley packs away the booming drive – watch day five on Tuesday on Sky Sports Cricket

Last Updated: 04/07/22 7:34pm


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Alex Lees brought up England’s fifty by reverse sweeping India spinner Ravindra Jadeja for four through backward point

Alex Lees brought up England’s fifty by reverse sweeping India spinner Ravindra Jadeja for four through backward point

‘Bazball’ has sparked English Test cricket back into life, with opener Alex Lees one of its biggest beneficiaries.

Gone is the player that batted in tortoise-like fashion during his debut series in the West Indies in March, when his strike rate was below 28.

Lees is now the hare, picking up his runs at a strike rate of 50 during the 3-0 series sweep over New Zealand and then at a whopping 86.15 in a tone-setting 56 from 65 deliveries against India at Edgbaston on Monday.

A calamitous run out, after a mix-up with Joe Root, shredded Lees’ chances of carding a first Test century – but his knock in Birmingham should ensure he gets plenty more opportunities to reach three figures.

England opener Alex Lees embraces 'Bazball' as he turns from tortoise to hare at top of the order England opener Alex Lees embraces 'Bazball' as he turns from tortoise to hare at top of the order

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July 5, 2022, 9:45am

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As the left-hander and opening partner Zak Crawley strolled out to begin England’s record run chase of 378, even the most optimistic soul would have accepted their hopes of victory were slim.

Less than 20 overs later, WinViz made England favourites, with Lees having bossed a rapid hundred partnership with Crawley. He clinched the half-century stand inside nine overs with a reverse sweep.

In terms of his own half-century, that came from just 44 deliveries – the fourth-fastest by an England opener in Test cricket.

This is a new and emboldened Alex Lees.

Let’s not forget that he also played his part in that riotous run chase at Trent Bridge a few weeks ago. Jonny Bairstow’s brutal 77-ball ton obviously hogged the headlines but Lees’ 44, during which he hit three boundaries off Tim Southee in the first over, signalled England’s intent.

Speaking to Sky Sports Cricket at stumps, Lees said of coming out to bat at Edgbaston: “I just wanted to try and give it a good whack, to he honest!

“The backing from Ben [Stokes] and Baz [Brendon McCullum] has accelerated that aggressive intent and the manner in which I am playing.

Lees' strike rate has increased dramatically since his debut series in the West Indies in March

Lees’ strike rate has increased dramatically since his debut series in the West Indies in March

“The numbers are still not where I would like them to be. I want to score big hundreds – that is my role as an opening batter.”

Reflecting on Lees’ speedy Edgbaston fifty, Sky Sports Cricket’s Nasser Hussain said: “He played out of his skin. He set the tone by charging down to [Mohammed] Shami’s second delivery and hitting a boundary.

“I think he has watched his captain, Stokes, and thought, ‘I am having a bit of this’. He was controlled, disciplined and technically-sound and immediately put India’s bowlers on the back foot.

Lees' strike rate during his score of 56 was 86.15

Lees’ strike rate during his score of 56 was 86.15

“He didn’t let [spinner Ravindra] Jadeja settle, first ball to him he came down the pitch and he then manoeuvred the field. I think it shows he has been told to go out and express himself.

“I think this is how he used to play when he started at Yorkshire.

“He perhaps felt he then had to play a certain way in international cricket [in the West Indies] but Brendon McCullum has said, ‘no, none of that nonsense, go and express yourself’.”

England opener Alex Lees embraces 'Bazball' as he turns from tortoise to hare at top of the order

For the left-handers in this team, I think is for us to have a go at the left-arm spinner. If I am honest, I wanted to hit him for six first ball but yorked myself! There is no great science. I just tried to hit the ball where the fielders weren’t.

Alex Lees on facing India left-arm spinner Ravi Jadeja

The problem with Lees’ opening partner Crawley is that he has possibly trying to express himself too much.

When he was caught on the drive off Jasprit Bumrah in the first innings, it made it four times this Test summer that he had nicked off in the channel outside off stump.

“Put away the drive early on” was the clarion call from pundits and Crawley appeared to heed that advice in his second dig at Edgbaston.

“For me, it was about the shots Lees played and the ones Crawley didn’t,” added Hussain. “India bowled where Crawley has been getting out but he left it and was so patient.

Zak Crawley showed much more restraint outside off stump during his second-innings 46, as he shared an opening stand of 107 from 131 balls with Lees

Zak Crawley showed much more restraint outside off stump during his second-innings 46, as he shared an opening stand of 107 from 131 balls with Lees

“I know in the end a leave got him out [he was bowled shouldering arms to a nip-backer from Bumrah] but if he can leave the ball up front it means bowlers have to go straighter to him and bowl to his strengths.

“Anyone who has seen Crawley bat over the years knows he is very strong on middle and off stump.

“Then, when the ball stops moving, he can drive on the up – he has earned the right to get that big booming drive out. If Crawley leaves like he has today, he will have a much longer Test career.”

England remain on course to wrap up this record run chase – Bairstow and Joe Root taking them 119 runs shy of victory by stumps on day four – and if the hosts are successful, Lees and Crawley deserve a pat on the back.

Watch day five of the fifth LV=Insurance Test between England and India live on Sky Sports Cricket on Tuesday. Coverage begins at 9.45am with the first ball at 10.30am.


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