Bazball is a completely annoying word because any time it’s used – which is basically every other sentence in this Ashes – everybody is talking at cross purposes.
The foundations for this ongoing noisy surround sound argument lie in the fact that almost no-one knows or acknowledges the definition that Cricinfo UK editor Andrew Miller had in mind when he coined the word. Miller seems to have meant a stripped back, unencumbered mindset – essentially, ‘see ball, react to ball’.
Most people have however developed a narrower understanding – typically that it’s somehow all about trying to welly boundaries.
This is sort of understandable because an in-the-moment frame of mind probably does result in more shotmaking from the majority of players. But this doesn’t make slogging and Bazball synonyms. If a batter is shorn of outside pressures and preconceptions, they should in theory end up left with that trite old method, ‘playing each ball on its merits’.
It’s clear from the last year or so that a lot of England batters haven’t been seeing much merit in a lot of deliveries. That end result is much easier to see and understand than how it comes about.
In match commentary, ‘Bazball’ has therefore often come to be used as shorthand for attacking batting, in the same way that in recent years fours and sixes have often been hailed as ‘T20 cricket’, as if no-one hit a boundary before 2003.
That sort of usage makes the word misleadingly narrow and it means whenever anyone uses ‘Bazball’ to describe something more complex, at least half the people hearing or reading undertstand an entirely different meaning from the one intended.
As Brendon McCullum himself said recently: “I don’t have any idea what ‘Bazball’ is. It’s not just all crash and burn if you look at the approach – and that’s why I don’t really like that silly term that people are throwing out there.
“Because there’s actually quite a bit of thought that goes into how the guys manufacture their performances and when they put pressure on bowlers and which bowlers they put pressure on. There’s also times where they’ve absorbed pressure beautifully as well.”
The other reason why Bazball is such a dumb thing to argue about is because the word isn’t just used too narrowly; it’s used too broadly as well.
Its omnipresence as a label has made it possible to hang any part of the England team’s approach off it. It’s not just the batting; literally every single thing Ben Stokes or Brendon McCullum ever says has also become ‘Bazball’. It’s expanded into this great big basket of ideas about cricket – many essentially unrelated – all of which are attributed to some central guiding principle that can only ever be divined through the squaring of multiple circles. The end result is a nebulous and ungraspable concept, at which point people start filling the semantic void with whatever the hell they feel like.
What’s Bazball about? Fearlessness? Clarity of thought? Alleviating pressure? Playing with conviction? What else could we throw into the mix? Relentless positivity maybe? Lack of recriminations? Entertainment at all costs and total disregard for results? Is it about calculated aggression or all-out aggression? Is it about picking five mid-pace right-armers and asking them to bowl half-trackers for two-thirds of a day?
Maybe it’s some of these things. Maybe it’s none of them. It depends who you ask. And when.
Bazball is a weird, collectively built straw man that everyone sees from a different angle. Let’s talk about the details we can agree upon and accept that there’s nothing to be gained from discussing the whole.