What is Bazball in Cricket?

Know what is Bazball in cricket and the characteristics of the England Test team’s new-found philosophy under coach Brendon McCullum.

Subhayan Dutta
Subhayan Dutta

Last Updated: 2023-11-17

Dillip Mohanty

5 minutes read

The term “bazball” was coined by ESPNCricinfo journalist Andrew Miller while defining the English Test team’s new-found approach under coach Brandon McCullum. Fondly called “Baz '' from his playing days, the former New Zealand captain Brandon McCullum is known to advocate an aggressive brand of cricket. Bazball’s definition of cricket is this modified approach in the longest format.

The most apt and most popular example of Bazball has been England’s domineering opening day against Pakistan in Rawalpindi when the visitors tallied a mammoth 506 runs, which is the highest run scored by a team in a single day of Test cricket.

In an otherwise conservative format, which usually runs for five days before an outcome is decided, Bazball has been a breath of fresh air. After Eoin Morgan’s belligerent approach to white-ball cricket delivered the Three Lions their maiden ODI World Cup title in 48 years, the management wanted to experiment with a similar approach in red-ball cricket.

Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes Bazball 3.jpeg

After the 2021-22 Ashes series ended 4-0 in favour of Australia, coach Chris Silverwood was sacked and McCullum was appointed on May 12, 2022, as a shock move. Having just retired from playing cricket in 2019, McCullum was largely untested in the Test format, with his only success coming as the coach of T20 franchises. However, the management seemed to know exactly what they wanted and McCullum didn’t disappoint either.

While Bazball has faced criticism, it surely has brought results for a struggling English side, who has won 13 of the 18 Tests they played under McCullum from June 2022 to July 2023.

England Test Match Results

Playing Bazball

New ZealandWon5 wicketsLord's2 Jun 2022
New ZealandWon5 wicketsTrent Bridge10 Jun 2022
New ZealandWon7 wicketsHeadingley23 Jun 2022
IndiaWon7 wicketsEdgbaston1 Jul 2022
South AfricaLostinnings & 12 runsLord's17 Aug 2022
South AfricaWoninnings & 85 runsOld Trafford25 Aug 2022
South AfricaWon9 wicketsThe Oval8 Sep 2022
PakistanWon74 runsRawalpindi1 Dec 2022
PakistanWon26 runsMultan9 Dec 2022
PakistanWon8 wicketsKarachi17 Dec 2022
New ZealandWon267 runsBay Oval16 Feb 2023
New ZealandLost1 runBasin Reserve24 Feb 2023
IrelandWon10 wicketsLord's1 Jun 2023
AustraliaLostLost by 2 wicketsEdgbaston16 Jun 2023
AustraliaLostLost by 43 runsLord's28 Jun 2023
AustraliaWonWon by 3 wicketsHeadingley6 Jul 2023
AustraliaDraw-Old Trafford19 Jul 2023
AustraliaWonWon by 49 runsThe Oval27 Jul 0202
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A glorious start to the Bazball philosophy

McCullum had assumed England’s coaching duties at a time when the side had won just once in seventeen matches under Joe Root’s captaincy. A change in captaincy was also fundamental to England’s path forward with a vibrant Ben Stokes more likely to be in tandem with the new gaffer’s philosophy.

Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes Bazball.jpeg

The Ben Stokes-Brendon McCullum partnership couldn’t have started better with England whitewashing New Zealand at home in the three-match Test series. However, it was the manner of their victories that forced the world to stand up and take notice.

How Bazball redefined run-chase in Test cricket

Bazball’s initial assignments were against New Zealand and India, respectively, the two finalists of the 2021 World Test Championships, and England showed domination. Batting second in all four matches, England chased 277, 299, 296 and 378 runs, respectively, in the fourth innings to create history.

England was the first team in the Test to chase three scores of 250-plus in consecutive games against New Zealand, and the first-ever English side to win four consecutive Test matches while batting last. While batting first has traditionally been a popular decision in Test cricket, Stokes was seen opting to chase whenever he won the toss.

England’s run rate in Test cricket currently stands at a whopping 4.82; the closest to this was Steve Waugh’s Australia, who scored 3.66 runs per over. Among all the components that have defined Bazball, three stand out - a mentality to win at all costs, no fear of failure and embracing mental freedom and fun.

Ben Stokes Celebrating after a Test Chase .jpegFollowing England’s win over New Zealand at Trent Bridge, where the hosts chased 299 runs in the final innings, Stokes had perfectly summed up this new approach, “The message just was run into the fear of what the game was rather than stand still or back away from it...I'll say it quite simply: we were either winning this game or losing it.

“That was the mentality that we wanted all the batsmen coming in to have...It's paid off. When you have the backing of the coach and captain, it rubs off on the players in a very positive way. So you're not fearing failure. You're just going out and doing what you want to do," the England captain explained.

Bazball transcends beyond aggressive batting

While going full-throttle from the first ball has been a Bazball trademark, the philosophy isn’t just limited to scoring runs faster. English bowlers have also been seen bowling fuller-length deliveries more frequently with the sole aim being taking more wickets and not run protection.

Stokes has been a very lively skipper on the field as well, continuously changing field positions to confuse batsmen. England has tried to attack by placing some unconventional fielding positions like using a leg slip, assembling three men in front of square and even placing a player on the back-stop.

This uncompromising attitude of England was seen in their willingness to seek results at all costs, a fact perfectly evident by the team drawing just once in their last 18 matches. England made the second-earliest declaration in Test cricket history while facing New Zealand at the Bay Oval when they tallied 325/9 in 58.2 overs before asking the hosts to bat. Eventually, England would win the game by a whopping 267 runs.

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“If you think you are going to plunder the best bowlers in the world with a new conker when they are fresh then you are an idiot.”

Geoffrey Boycott on Bazball

The downside of Bazball

The biggest doubt about Bazball has been its sustenance. While it has surely brought back the crowd to the stands to watch Test cricket, this philosophy leaves too much to chance and with opponents gradually figuring it out, this might become ineffective soon.

Like England’s aggressive declaration against New Zealand was rewarded, the same tactics failed to deliver during the first game of the 2023 Ashes. Stokes would declare at 393/8 after 78 overs on Day 1, with Root staying unbeaten at 118. The idea was to get wickets in the remaining four overs of the day, but it wouldn’t work and England lost the match by 2 wickets.

While England’s failure banking on Bazball has been few and farther apart, it has exposed a big chink in this approach - this mindset leaves very little space for comebacks. Whether it be England’s mammoth loss to South Africa at the Lord’s or going down 2-0 to Australia in the 2023  Ashes, Bazball hasn’t proved to be a bulletproof armour.

Criticizing the approach, former England cricket legend Geoffrey Boycott rightly said, “If you think you are going to plunder the best bowlers in the world with a new conker when they are fresh then you are an idiot.”

Subhayan Dutta
Subhayan DuttaSports Writer

An M.A. in English Literature, Subhayan is an experienced journalist and sports writer. Having worked as a journalist at Hindustan Times, Subhayan covered diverse beats including sports, education, and health, showcasing his versatility and in-depth understanding of various subjects.