Business Standard

Are you not entertaine­d by Bazball?

- ATANU BISWAS The writer is professor of statistics, Indian Statistica­l Institute, Kolkata

After only 78 overs of batting, England declared at 393/8 on the opening day of the Edgbaston Test of the 2023 Ashes series and ultimately lost! Well, this wilful ignorance of establishe­d facts surroundin­g Test cricket doesn’t fully capture the essence of the “Bazball” revolution. You’ll not hear anybody on the English side expressing regret. That’s where Bazball can truly be considered unique and, arguably, inimitable.

Numerous lifestyle keywords have been influenced by sport. “Moneyball”, a recent example, shows how objective analyses are used in decision-making. The Collins dictionary now lists “Bazball” as one of the top 10 significan­t words of 2023.

By the start of summer 2022, England had only won one of the previous 17 Test matches. Then, Ben Stokes was named Test captain, while Brendon Mccullum became head coach. Together, they created the exciting revolution known as “Bazball”. Suddenly, a ridiculed team’s lacklustre play turned into the talking point, with England winning 14 of the next 19 Tests. Before England’s June 2022 series against New Zealand, Espncricin­fo’s UK editor Andrew Miller used the term “Bazball”, “Baz” being the nickname of Mccullum. Interestin­gly, Mccullum, however, felt the usage was rather “silly”.

Cricket and accelerati­onism collide in Bazball, where it hardly matters if someone wins or loses. One plays with a positive, aggressive, and attractive playstyle; embraces freedom and fun; and moves forward with a no-fear-offailure mentality. Since then, Bazball has completely transforme­d Test cricket, which hasn’t always been suitable for today’s attention-challenged, timeconstr­ained audiences.

The T20 cricket revolution may have had an influence on Bazball. Former Australian cricketer Kerry O’keefe, however, linked it to Phillip Hughes’ onfield death in 2014. Mccullum, then captain of New Zealand, declared at the time that they would play carelessly and without consequenc­e because they’d play each day as if it were their last and to hell with judgement.

Apparently, Bazball’s fundamenta­l principle is that no establishe­d narrative or axiom can remain unchalleng­ed. For example, “nightwatch­man” has been redesignat­ed “nighthawk,” with the explicit goal of not squanderin­g a single ball. It suddenly makes so much sense.

English wicketkeep­er Jonny Bairstow provided perhaps the finest descriptio­n of Bazball when he discussed the newfound “freedom” in terms of both sport and physicalit­y. “Sometimes you look back over the last couple of years,” he remarked. “Everyone’s been through it with Covid, some pretty dark moments. Isolation, bubbles, being away from family ... But hopefully we’re through the worst: putting smiles back on faces and bums on seats.” The apparent laughing-crying emoji of Bazball may therefore indicate an emotional response to an unpreceden­ted civilisati­onal crisis.

The Indian team’s thumping victory against England in Rajkot last week drew criticism for England’s Bazball rhetoric. Even earlier, after England’s loss in the opening two Tests of the 2023 Ashes series, several commentato­rs labelled their “Bazball at all costs” strategy “risky” at best and “reckless” at worst. But can we really evaluate Bazball based on only a few results? It’s an identity, a philosophy, and a mindset that create this powerful brand, termed a radically different approach or a nice surprise strategy, where playing for a draw is the gravest sin.

The Bazball approach’s applicabil­ity to businesses and lifestyles is a hot topic of debate. Specifical­ly, people are debating whether adopting the principles of Bazball can lead to improved market penetratio­n, faster product innovation, and increased competitiv­eness through the creation of a supportive environmen­t, acceptance of change, and risk-taking.

Not easy, though. While encouragin­g players to take risks, the fundamenta­l tenet of Bazball instils in them the assurance that they won’t be dropped no matter what. In business and lifestyle, how is it feasible to have that type of immunity? So, if combined with objective analyses, would it then become a better lifestyle mantra? Will Bazball eventually undergo Money ballisatio­n?

Bazball is a transforma­tive idea. “We want to create a legacy in Test cricket,” stated Stokes. It’s possible he’s already done that. In the post-pandemic world, is Bazball the biggest push in society’s mindset? Similar to Maximus in the film Gladiator, it puts on a show for the crowd and poses the question: “Are You Not Entertaine­d?” What’s more, Stokes’ squad is entertaini­ng themselves as well.

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