England's absence robs WTC final of 'Bazball' buzz
This year's World Test Championship (WTC) final will again be a party without hosts, leaving England fans wishing their team's 'Bazball' revolution had been sparked a little earlier.
Two years after losing to New Zealand in the inaugural WTC final in Southampton, India are on the verge of sealing a spot in June's title decider at The Oval.
India, who have taken an emphatic 2-0 lead in the ongoing Border-Gavaskar Trophy series against Australia, need one more victory to secure their place, while avoiding a 4-0 whitewash would punch a ticket for Pat Cummins and his men.
Should either of them fail in their pursuits, only Sri Lanka have an outside chance of gatecrashing the party, but they must triumph 2-0 in New Zealand in March before even dreaming of making the final.
England's mathematical chance of making the final were snuffed out after India hammered Australia inside three days in Nagpur earlier this month.
It came just as England, under captain Ben Stokes and coach Brendon "Baz" McCullum, were threatening to change the way Test cricket is played with the "Bazball" approach to the longest format.
The stunning transformation continued with a comprehensive victory over New Zealand at Tauranga on Sunday, which gave the new captain-coach partnership a 10th win in 11 Tests since they came in and put the emphasis on entertainment over outcome.
"It's completely unrecognisable," veteran seamer Stuart Broad said at Bay Oval on the eve of the victory on Saturday.
"It's a bit of a shame there's not a fly-on-the-wall documentary on it because it's amazing to be part of. I'm so lucky to see it first-hand.
"Honestly, since June, I can't remember a negative word in the dressing room. It's phenomenal to watch how Baz and Stokesy go about their business."
Stokes replaced Joe Root as captain in April last year after debacles in Australia and West Indies, which effectively cooked England's WTC goose and prompted the change in the guard.
Top nine Test teams play six series each - three at home and three away - in a two-year cycle, with the top two making the final of the WTC, which was designed to lend context to bilateral series.
Under Stokes, England blanked New Zealand 3-0, beat India at Edgbaston and prevailed 2-1 against South Africa on home soil.
Their radical brand of cricket worked abroad too, as they completed a 3-0 sweep in Pakistan and now just need to avoid a defeat in Wellington this week to win the two-Test series in New Zealand, which falls outside the WTC cycle.
Had England's revival been sparked a little earlier, they might be bidding to complete the collection of all three of cricket's major men's global titles in June's WTC final.
They won the Twenty20 World Cup in Australia in November and will defending the 50-overs title they won in 2019 in India later this year.