The term has its own Wikipedia article now!
Bazball is an informal cricketing term coined during the 2022 English cricket season. Bazball commonly refers to the style of play of the England national cricket team after the appointments of Brendon McCullum as Test cricket head coach, and Ben Stokes as England Test cricket captain, by English cricket managing director Rob Key, in May 2022. The Bazball style and mindset is said to have an emphasis on taking positive decisions in attack and defence, whether batting or in the field.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bazball
The article is worth reading in full, especially if you are a fan of cricket. But how does one think about Bazball if one is both a fan of cricket and of game theory?
- First, you can have fun defining what Bazball is, but what it has brought to the table where England is concerned is not up for debate. 10 wins out of 11 since the era has started, a victory in Pakistan that is still hard to believe, and the second fastest declaration in history – and there’s a lot many more records to look up apart from these. Whatever it is, it is working – so far.
- One way to think about Bazball is to argue that it is the same style of play that has worked so well for England in the case of limited overs cricket. So why not bring the same fearless approach into test cricket too? And on the basis of the evidence thus far, why not indeed?
- You could argue that Brendon McCullum is in effect hastening what would have been an inevitable process in the medium/long term. Is it safe to say that Cheteshwar Pujara is the last of his breed when it comes to Indian batsmen? Will all test playing nations have batsmen who are more naturally aggressive in five to ten years time? If yes, England just got there sooner under Stokes and McCullum.
- So the other teams must play catch-up, correct? They must respond by utilizing the same no-fear-no-holds-barred approach. Bazball, in other words, but the amped-up version. Beat ’em by getting better than ’em at their own game. That’d be one option, sure…
- But there were two ways to out-Pep Pep at the start of the previous decade. I’m talking football now, but you could either try and get even better at possession based football than the OG’s, or you could go the Mourinho route. Think about the Barcelona Inter Milan semis, for example. Similarly, you could try and out-Baz Bazball, or you could go in the opposite direction and play ultra defensively.
- If you want to go the out-Baz Bazball route, it’ll be great for the spectators, and one will get to see high-octane series with a lot of risks being taken by both teams. But there will be teams that will lose a game too many by adopting the extremely risky route, and such teams might adapt by toning down their level of risk tolerance. You’ll see risk-taking approaches go through cycles before hitting upon some sort of an equilibrium.
- If you want to go the conservative route instead, you might push teams that go down the Bazball route taken even more risks in response. This may work, in which case these teams will be even more incentivized to go further down the high-risk path. Or it may not, in which case these teams may tone down down their gung-ho approach a bit. But again, you’ll see risk-taking approaches go through cycles.
- Football has gone through many such cycles in its past, and this is a great book to read in this regard.
- As a fan of cricket, and as a student of game theory, it will be fascinating to see how this plays out in cricket, especially in the context of shortening attention-spans, the increasing popularity of T20 leagues, and the preferences of players to play ‘T20 style’.
- Get game theory out of the classroom, and into whatever fields you like to think about. Sports is just one example. But a subject like game theory comes alive when it helps you understand real-life situations better. And as a cricket fan, I can think of very few examples better than analyzing Bazball and its game theoretic implications!