England’s phenomenal performance at Trent Bridge, chasing down 299 on the final day to seal the series against world Test champions New Zealand with a game to spare, was a vindication of everything Brendon McCullum stands for as a cricketer.
But how has England’s new coach, in just two matches, transformed the group from a laughing stock, humiliated in Australia and the West Indies last winter, into one of the most exhilarating teams?
The answer? “Bazball” – the no-holds-barred approach that champions freedom of expression and a win-at-all-costs mentality above everything else.
Baz, as McCullum is known, developed this bold approach while captain of New Zealand. Now the 40-year-old is perfecting it in his first coaching job in red-ball cricket.
Those watching the extraordinary final session at Trent Bridge, during which Jonny Bairstow scored a sensational 77-ball century, would have recognised many similarities with how England’s white-ball teams play the game.
McCullum, of course, is close friends with Eoin Morgan, who has credited the New Zealander with influencing how, as captain, he has reinvigorated England’s white-ball cricket since 2015.
Yet to take a similar mindset into Test cricket, where players are at the mercy of varying conditions over five days, is another thing altogether. And to do it with a group of players who were mentally broken after just one win in 17 matches before he took over is a remarkable achievement.
There’s no doubt England have been freed up mentally by the end of Covid restrictions. Two long years in bio-secure bubbles broke the players’ spirits. But on the field they have been liberated by “Bazball”.
So what is this new philosophy? In short, there are seven fundamental principles:
The seven principles of ‘Bazball’
- 1 A less reflective environment
- 2 No negative chat
- 3 A win-at-all-costs mentality
- 4 No fear of failure
- 5 Praise – even for the little things
- 6 Simplicity of message
- 7 Embracing mental freedom and fun
These principles have all been enthusiastically adopted by England’s players and under Ben Stokes they have a captain whose mindset is aligned with McCullum’s.
Stokes gave a window into the new way of thinking when he admitted after Trent Bridge: “There was no way we were going to settle for a draw. We were either winning or losing that game.”
Just a year earlier at Lord’s, England declined to go for a target of 273 in 75 overs against New Zealand.
Stuart Broad admitted: “There’s no doubt Baz has had an impact already. It’s a very positive language in the changing room. It’s very forward thinking. All about how to move this game forward.
“Even at tea [on the final day], four down with the game in the balance, I’ve certainly been in changing rooms in the past – and this is no dig – where that would be shut up shop time. “Baz’s team talk was very much ‘let’s run towards the danger’ and every part of your mind is going for this win. Whoever is to come, the changing room has full belief you can get the win.”
Broad also gave an insight into the first two tenets of “Bazball”, saying: “It does feel really fresh and exciting in the changing room. It’s become a bit less reflective. It wasn’t so much ‘what could we have done better on day one’ as much as about what we’re going to do now to improve our situation.
“I knew our mindset was always going to be all about winning and at no stage was it ever going to turn into a draw from our point of view. There does feel like a mentality shift. That final morning felt so relaxed. I didn’t hear anyone mention the word ‘lose’ or anything negative. It was ‘how are we going to get a win’?”
McCullum’s man-management skills are also crucial. “It’s not just praising guys who get a hundred,” said Broad. “It’s the tiny little things, bits of fielding, momentum changes in the game.
“I don’t think he’s spoken particularly deeply. His whole mantra is about enjoyment and fun. The energy is: how good’s Test cricket? How good’s this ground? He seems like he doesn’t look too far ahead, enjoy the day, what can we get out of it?
“At tea [on the final day], the way he spoke two-three minutes before the bell, he didn’t say ‘I’d prefer to lose than draw’, but it was that mindset – it was going for a win at all costs. I want to win, find your way to do that. You have my full backing, Stokes’ full backing to go get the win.”
That simplicity of message was also crucial to Bairstow’s amazing post-tea blitz at Trent Bridge, with the hero of the hour admitting McCullum did not give him any explicit instructions. “No, not really,” said Bairstow. “No specifics, just go and enjoy it and go and change the game.”
Simple but mightily effective words. No paralysis by analysis, no dressing-room inquests like after England’s Ashes defeat in Adelaide last winter, no dramas.
England have had a spectacular start to life under McCullum and the bad news for the rest of world cricket is that this is still early days in the evolution of “Bazball”. As Bairstow notes: “It’s not the finished article. It’s only been two weeks and that’s going to develop and evolve over a period of time. Everyone is still learning. But there isn’t anything we can’t do.”