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Bazball is entertaining, hypocritical, enthralling, delusional, glorious, self-righteous ... and destined to fail in Ashes

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5th July, 2023
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The Ashes series, and the continuation of a style of play affectionately labelled ‘Bazball’, began with much hype, hope and hubris. Yet it’s now become so much more – and oxymoronically, less – than that.

What started as a cute nickname for playing some aggressive, if not reckless, batting strokes, is now the central narrative of this Ashes series. Primarily, this is due to the English players, press and fans humorously and arrogantly convincing themselves they are revolutionising the game and saving Test cricket.

They’re now the self-appointed arbiters of what is aggressive cricket, what is entertaining cricket, and what’s within the Spirit of the Game.

It’s all absolutely bonkers, but it certainly ensures the Ashes is even more engrossing.

Whether it’s a case of the English Test cricket team reading too much of their own press, or just blindly drinking the Kool-Aid of coach Brendon McCullum, they have emphatically become extremely vocal on how the game should be played.

The confusing part is that they’re all over the shop.

Much of their bowling across the two Tests has made their “entertaining cricket” mantra sound extremely hypocritical.

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Likewise, they were all too happy to evoke the ‘letter of the law’ sentiment on Mitchell Starc’s catch, though they didn’t feel quite as strongly about it on Jonny Bairstow’s stumping.

The talk about winning the first Test, despite – well – losing, was borderline delusional. As was captain Ben Stokes hinting at England being in a great position, despite being down two games to nil.

And while their aggressive strokeplay is great to watch, the object of the game is still to win, and some of the English batting thus far in the series has been so reckless as to undermine any entertainment it provided. Aggression needs to be controlled and conducive to winning the match, with Ben Stokes’ fourth innings masterpiece the ultimate blueprint.

Hypocrites. Delusional. Reckless. Wow, I sound as bad as the British tabloids!

Which is a seamless segue into the English media, who are a parochial, biased and sensationalistic bunch at the best of times, let alone during an Ashes series. However, they need to take much of the credit – or blame – for making Bazball such a ‘thing’.

That’s the problem with giving a concept a name; it narrows the focus to that one, single concept, and all nuance goes out the door. Plus, it overly legitimises it. Much like the incidence of road rage increasing once it was given a term – thereby socially norming it – ‘Bazball’ gave English cricket something to live up to, at all times, at all costs.

Ben Duckett of England leaves the field after losing his wicket Josh Hazlewood of Australia during Day Two of the LV= Insurance Ashes 2nd Test match between England and Australia at Lord's Cricket Ground on June 29, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Ben Duckett. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

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Forgetting all the grandstanding self-righteousness for a second, Bazball’s aggressive cricket isn’t all that revolutionary anyway.

All England are really doing is finally not playing boring cricket. It’s hardly radical; it was delayed. Most other nations had cottoned onto the excitement and enjoyment of not having strike rates in the forties decades ago.

There’s a reason Kevin Pietersen was such a breath of fresh air when he came onto the Test scene in 2005, and it wasn’t just his streaked dyed hair. Here was a batsman like few others England had selected; one that liked to play shots. Before that, the list was Ian Botham and . . . um, well, yes.

I’m sure I’m forgetting someone else, but it certainly wasn’t Michael Atherton, Nasser Hussain, Graham Thorpe or any other of the countless English batsmen who struggled to put bums on seats.

On the other hand, current Australian batsmen like Dave Warner and Travis Head have always batted aggressively. Not to mention past legends like Adam Gilchrist, Ricky Ponting, Matt Hayden, Andrew Symonds, Darren Lehmann, Brad Haddin, Michael Slater, and the list could go on.

‘Bazball’? The Aussies simply call it ‘cricket’.

To be fair, some of England’s batsmen have taken aggressive cricket to the next level, and a few of their strike rates are insane. England should be applauded for playing an entertaining, exciting, and captivating style of cricket. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it really has been great for the game.

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England captain Ben Stokes leaves the field at stumps on Day One of the LV= Insurance Ashes 2nd Test match between England and Australia at Lord's Cricket Ground on June 28, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Copley - ECB/ECB via Getty Images)

England captain Ben Stokes. (Photo by Gareth Copley – ECB/ECB via Getty Images)

Additionally, the belief McCullum has instilled in his side is incredibly impressive.

Pre-series I questioned why there was so much optimism exuding out of England. Sure, they were playing entertaining cricket, but Australia had the better top six, the better keeper, the better all-rounder, the better spinner, the better quicks, and were the better fielding side. Other than all that, the teams were super close . . .

The only possible edge England held was in captaincy, coaching and tactics.

As such, it’s actually not difficult to believe some of England’s arrogant bluster and chatter is simply an orchestrated effort by England to goad Australia into trying to out-Bazball them, thus playing into the home team’s hands.

If both teams play risky shots, it lessens the talent gap between them. A gap which is actually quite vast. After all, could anyone honestly make a case that any player other than Joe Root, and maybe Ben Stokes, would make the Australian team?

If the chatter from the likes of Ollie Robinson has been a premediated psychological strategy, it’s a tactic not too unlike David Campese goading England into foolishly playing expansive rugby in the 1991 World Cup Final.

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Though it seems Australia are too smart to take the bait, and have instead continued to bat with a tempo they feel comfortable with. Ironically, that savviness is diametrically opposed to Australia’s bowling, which has often been incredibly dumb.

Yet I digress.

Back to McCullum, who as the coach, needs to ensure what he is evoking is beneficial belief.

Sometimes the biggest problem in a coach giving their players confidence is when it goes too far, and said players lose any sense of rational thought and action.

It plays perfectly in Disney films and Ted Lasso, where the heavy underdogs start believing they’re as good – or better – than their opposition.

In the real world, unwarranted belief has the effect of simply giving humans an ego. And in England’s case, it’s been irrational, undeserved and outsized.

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Speaking of irrational, in the wake of the Bairstow stumping, McCullum said he can’t imagine having a beer with Australia anytime soon. Perhaps he was simply worried the Aussies would bring up the footage of him doing exactly what Alex Carey did, during his playing days?

That’s the unfortunate thing about high horses: it’s a long way down.

It would be easy to view this criticism of Bazball, England’s entitlement, and their arrogance, as mere ‘Pom bashing’. Your own self bias is always the hardest to spot, so perhaps that’s exactly what I’m guilty of.

Truth be told, as a cricket fan, I actually love England’s new attitude to playing. And whilst I think their approach needs a little less arrogance, and much more self-awareness, it also adds immensely to the drama, theatre, and rivalry of the Ashes.

So, more hypocrisy. More delusion. More self-righteousness. Double down on it, England.

It’s making the Ashes – and beating you – even more fun.

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