What is Bazball in Cricket?

The 2023 Ashes series between hosts England and the tourists Australia got underway on the 16th of June, with the Aussies edging a thrilling game. The second match will take place at the home of cricket, Lord’s, beginning on the 28th of June, with the five-game series concluding at the Oval at the end of July. Those who do not follow cricket closely may be hearing the word “Bazball” for the first time and wondering what it is. Even those who are relatively keen fans may not be entirely sure what is meant by this word, despite the fact it is likely to be mentioned in every report of the Ashes all through the summer. So, as the title says, what is Bazball?

Who is Baz?

First of all, let us say that the pioneer of Bazball and those within the England set-up are not overly keen on the name Bazball. Considerate people that we are, we tend to say “England’s new style”, or words to that effect, but to keep things simple, we’ll stick to Bazball here. Sorry, Baz.

Oh yeah, Baz… who is he? The eponymous Baz is Brendon McCullum, middle name Barrie, hence Baz being his nickname. McCullum was a super-aggressive batsman and wicketkeeper who played for New Zealand in all formats of the game, captaining them as well. For a time he was the leading scorer in international T20 cricket and until very recently he was the leading six-hitter in Test cricket. He was surpassed in that latter regard by Ben Stokes, who is now his captain, McCullum being the head coach of the England men’s Test side.

McCullum was appointed England’s new boss in May 2022, with England enduring a dismal run of form. His impact was instant, with an impressive 3-0 series win against New Zealand being followed by an incredible win over India, where England chased down 378 in the fourth innings. That was their highest-ever Test run chase and they achieved it in just 76.4 overs for the loss of a mere three wickets.

Bazball: Process, Pressure and Positivity to Preserve Test Cricket

According to some reports, the first person to use the term “Bazball” was the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. Borrowed from the baseball term “Moneyball”, and countless uses in football whenever a new coach comes along with anything vaguely looking like a fresh idea, in the summer of 2022 Bazball was the term used to describe England’s new attacking, swashbuckling style of play. We feel it is very misunderstood and whilst it has never been formerly codified or detailed, we can infer much from statements made by McCullum himself, as well as Stokes, and also from the actions taken by the England team over the last 15 months or so.

Some would simply say that Bazball is about all-out attack and view it as a foolish, kamikaze approach to cricket. This is not just reductive but also plain wrong. Perhaps the most important thing about England’s new approach is that it is about pressure. It is about removing pressure from the England players, in general; and also, at any moment in the match, putting the game pressure onto the opposition.

Pressure

In professional sport, all of the players are hugely talented and skilled. Perhaps the biggest difference between elite players and decent pros is in the mind and this is especially the case in slower sports that give the players more time to think and in which concentration is key. Pressure and mental interference are what stop sportspeople from producing their very best performances more frequently.

McCullum tries to remove this from players in a range of ways, most importantly by reminding them that they are playing a game, a sport, and that millions of other people would love to be in their shoes, walking out at Lord’s in an Ashes Test. It is not life or death and winning is not everything. They should go out, have fun, play positively, trust the process (many of the principles of Bazball are interlinked) and try and win the game.

This removes pressure and overthinking and gives players so much more freedom and thus a far better chance to produce their best cricket. However, there is also the pressure that tos and fros within a game and Bazball is very much about trying to put pressure on the other team within the game. Again, this very much relates to being positive and so rather than letting the other team dictate the game, England will always seek to do that.

By attacking and scoring quickly, the fielding team all of a sudden are worried about boundaries and the score racing along. When England bowl, they use incredibly attacking and unusual fields, with wickets their only aim, again forcing their opponent to be the one overthinking matters.

Positivity

When he retired from playing, McCullum explained how he wanted to be remembered as “a good bloke” who played cricket for the right reasons and “if in doubt, was prepared to take the positive option”. He has said that if in doubt, players should always take a step forward and this positivity is key to everything that the approach is about.

It is also a great way to remove pressure and over-analysis: quite simply, if you aren’t sure what to do, be positive. If in doubt, attack. Not attack at all costs, all the time, note. “Run towards the danger” is another phrase McCullum likes – and why not?!

Process

“Trust the process” is a phrase we have heard a lot in football and when things were going badly for Arsenal in 2021/22 it was almost a stick to beat their boss, Mikel Arteta, with. However, being process-driven, rather than focussing on results first, is increasingly popular. You can only control your own training, mindset and performance, not the outcome. Sport will always contain a degree of unpredictability and luck, so viewing results as the only measure of success is foolish.

Trust yourself, trust that what you are doing is right and the results will come. But by removing the focus from the outcome, once again, players feel freer and a lot of pressure is removed.

Saving the Game

And arguably the most important thing about Bazball is that, grand goal though it may sound, it seeks to save Test cricket. Talk of the longest format of the game dying has been around for a long time and whilst some deny it, the facts speak for themselves. Attendances and viewing figures are down almost everywhere in the world and especially in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, where T20 has so gripped the masses.

With The Hundred and even 10-over games also catering to the faster, modern world we live in, only the very biggest Test series attract much attention. The format remains strong in England and, to a lesser extent Australia and England. But overall most nations are playing fewer Tests as white-ball cricket eats into the calendar.

England’s new approach seeks to make Test cricket far more appealing to an audience that has been raised on T20s. What is the point of being the best team in the world at a game nobody cares about? By playing exciting, positive cricket and always trying to win, rather than draw, even if that risks losing, England are helping to create a version of Test cricket that captivates young and old, established fans and those watching the five-day format for the first time.

A year on from McCullum’s appointment it was noted that in 12 McCullum-Stokes Tests, England were scoring at 4.76 runs per over, a “sustained assault” that had “never been matched in the history of the game”. In the 12 months after the Kiwi came to the helm, the next-best scoring rate was 3.56, whilst England had won 10 out of 12 Tests, compared to Australia, second with six wins out of 11. This is revolutionary stuff and we say long live the revolution! Just don’t call it Bazball!