Almanac Cricket: Bazball, Brexit and Buffoons

 

 

 

Humiliated by Germany in the War of 1870 that captured large chunks of eastern France (Alsace & Lorraine) and forced reparations of a quarter of annual GDP – French generals went searching for a new winning strategy. They struck on Elan Vital – “vital force” or “life spirit” – a philosophical concept that when extended to war posited that the spirit of individual soldiers was more important to victory than weapons.

 

We know it today as Bazball.

 

French soldiers of 1914 were dressed in red caps and pants (MCC issue?) with bright blue tunics to reinforce their attacking spirit. German snipers and machine gunners thanked them for their largesse – much like the Bazball infantry which compulsively hooked to Australia’s deep legside field.

 

The theory of Elan was inspired by military successes over the 40 years between 1871 and 1914. British failure in the Boer War against a smaller, mobile cavalry was blamed on defensive tactics and timid generals. The much smaller Japanese navy had humiliated Russia through surprise and attack in the 1905 Russo-Japanese war. 

 

Brendon McCullum – the Marshal Foch of Bazball – similarly relied on a small sample size of Test victories in short series against New Zealand, Pakistan and India (one-off Test) to turn a short form cricket tactic into an all encompassing strategy. 

 

In sport as in war – surprise is often a winning short term tactic. Remember Terry Wallace confounding a dominant Essendon with the uber flood? But dominant eras are much less common than teams who catch lightning in a bottle for a year then revert to the mean (handball happy Bulldogs of 2016 or my tall marking Eagles of 2018). Bazball is more likely to be a fad not a food.

 

Elan Vital – the Cult of the Offensive – seems an appropriate label for the MCC members who lined the Long Room to abuse the Australian team for having the temerity to know the rules of the game. Londongrad – where MCC members in their day jobs as financiers and corporate lawyers ignored the “spirit” of money laundering laws to direct A$3B of Russian oligarch money into Chelski property via shell companies and offshore tax havens (source – Transparency International).

 

That British PM Rishi Sunak spent Saturday doing his “man of the people” schtick on BBC Test Match Special was hardly a surprise. Joining in the chorus of “we wuz robbed” fits with an architect of and advocate for Brexit. Having created the UK disaster of world-leading inflation, crumbling public services and more shits in Thames Water than in the House of Lords – Rishi (the thinking man’s Boris) decided that attack is the only strategy when faced with the indefensible.

 

My favourite political podcast “The Rest is Politics” combines former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell with Conservative ex-Minister Rory Stewart – two unusually broad-thinking and eloquent talking heads who “disagree agreeably” about a broad range of world events.

 

Rory had the misfortune to be an Assistant Minister when Boris Johnson was Foreign Secretary (being ‘under’ Boris is a terrifying thought).  Stewart became disturbed by the facile and superficial briefing notes he was receiving from officials and embassies. “UK exports soar!”, “British diplomatic triumph!” When he asked for more honest and insightful assessments of world affairs he was called into Boris’s office for a bollocking.

 

“I was captain of the rugby team at school,” Boris thundered. “The way you win is by keeping the spirits of the chaps up. Make them think they’re better than they are.”

 

Brexit and Bazball in a nutshell. How a country became captive to a bunch of chancers who sold them a bill of goods based around memories of empire glory and a common dislike of foreigners (particularly dark-skinned ones – cue Usman Khawaja).  

 

Economic and social policy jotted on a team sheet for the pre-match address in the changing sheds just before kick off. We are all of us susceptible to confidence men who feed our egos and hopeful vision of an easy future. Crypto, Murdoch, Trump and the rest of the bunch. “For every complex problem there is a solution that is simple, obvious – and wrong.”

 

Australia has not been immune. The “Don’t Think – Do” mantra extends to successive governments on housing, taxation, environment and education policies. We glorify the simplistic action sentiment but forget that Hawthorn lost the 1975 Grand Final by 9 goals and were outscored by 4 goals after coach John Kennedy Snr’s passionate three quarter time speech. 

 

Rather than “something will turn up – it’ll be alright on the day” the Australian cricket team seems to have adopted the mantra of thoroughbred training and breeding genius Colin Hayes that “the future belongs to those who plan for it”. While Australia was playing India at The Oval in the World Test Final, Baz and Stokesy took the lads to Scotland for a week of golf and “team bonding”. Piss-up as a preparation guarantees………

 

As for the “spirit of the game” – tell me what other professional sport relies on vague and subjective standards for its policing? Club golf has no umpires with players routinely calling penalties on themselves and there is very little cheating in club competitions. But the professional game is entirely different.

 

Former Top 10 player Rickie Fowler (then winless for four years and having blown the third-round lead in the recent US Open) stood on the PGA Tour final tee on Sunday needing a birdie to finish in a playoff. He hit his drive so far right that your dog wouldn’t find it if you wrapped the ball in bacon. No problem. Fowler knew that the right side rough was full of sponsor tents and spectator stands. A free drop from a Temporary Obstruction into a perfect lie on good line to the pin was guaranteed. Fowler hit his approach to three feet for a birdie and then won the playoff.

 

Golf media applauded his tactical smarts. It is accepted that professionals regularly “game the system” by intentionally hitting into “backboards” behind greens to get a better lie than aiming from long distance at a heavily protected green. Is that within the “spirit of the game”? Is that an opportunity available to the club member playing the same hole the next week? No. But it’s the tactical reality of professional sport. 

 

Play the hand you’re dealt. Use the rules to your advantage where you can – as your opponents surely will.

 

 

You can read more from Peter Baulderstone Here.

 

 

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Comments

  1. Rod Radford says

    Brilliant Peter, thank you

  2. Very, very good, PB.
    I think the French discarded the red caps and pantaloons in 1915 when they realised they were the Machinengewehr 08’s favourite food.

  3. Patrick O'Brien says

    Yep, the Colonel Blimps in the Long Room blame Europe for their Brexit being the disaster that everyone bar the Blimps predicted. Now they blame the Aussies for showing that the English can’t just will their way to victory, they’ll have to, you know, play some proper cricket now and then. Talk about shooting the messenger.

    Plus this nonsense about ‘the spirit of cricket’ is as ridiculous as when we used to ramble on about ‘the line’ that only we knew where it was because we always played close to it but NEVER crossed. To quote Colonel Potter: Horse hockey!

  4. Peter Crossing says

    Brilliant PB. Well done.

  5. PB, if I wore a hat, I’d take it off for you. I certainly couldn’t have put it any better myself. I have to admit when I first saw Alex Carey stump a bewildered looking Jonny Bear’stoe, I burst out laughing. TIT FOR TAT, I thought, what’s good for the Goose is good for the Gander. The scene is now set for a most interesting third test match..

  6. Luke Reynolds says

    Way more important to play by the rules than to a so called “spirit of the game” whether it’s professional or amateur sport. And has top level cricket ever truly been amateur?

    I’ve loved watching Bazball over the past year or so, but can’t see it working all the time unless you have a team full of generational players. Your point about the well planned Aussie team is spot on, even if they did lose the plot for a bit when Stokes was firing with the bat.

    Well thought out, entertaining piece PB.

  7. Colin Ritchie says

    Fab read PB as always.

  8. John Harms says

    Love being taken along on one of your rides. You offer us much to consider PB, as always.

  9. Terrific PB. Thought-provoking. Is Bazball just another cult? I’m sure it’s affirming and singular if you’re on the inside but to the rest of us it seems curious tending to disturbing.

  10. Kevin Densley says

    Sharp, intelligent stuff, Rock. Entertaining too, but with considerably more gravitas than something like Bazball!

  11. Hmmm PB, I’m unsure if Bazball is exactly analagous to the Elan Vital. Possibly was in the opening pair of tests but your interpretation of Bazball as a fad may not ring true as we’ve seen unravel since the start of the third test. Bazball may be the 21st century equivalent of Bradman in coming back to claim a series that seemed lost.

    Maybe you may feel a bit like General Paulus who seemed to be on top in the titanic struggle for Stalingrad only to encounter the leadership of the Marshalls such as Zhukov, Chukov, Rossokovsky, who inspired their troops to victory with an ideological Elan Vital.

    Hope to be wrong here but Bazball is seemingly a long way from being vanquished.

    Glen!

  12. Good get, Glen. I commented to Swish on Twitter half way through the Third Test that “my money could stop a train.” Like the heavily backed favourite that leads by 5 lengths on the turn and starts to get the staggers half way up the straight. (Why my predictions are no longer accompanied by cash!!)
    One of the benefits of age is finding something that reminds me of something I’ve read or seen before. It’s good to educate and provoke thought even when the connection is (as in this case) somewhat tenuous.
    We were with Mary’s cousin Mladen in Zagreb a week ago – an architect and deep thinker (for a Komunist!) He argued that the world would be a better place if the German/Austro Hungarian empire had won the First World War. Not something I’d ever considered from a Brit/Anzac perspective – but it made a lot of sense. No punitive WW1 reparations – definitely no Hitler – and probably no Stalin. He brought up the 1870 Franco-German and argued that European borders had been redefined regularly for centuries in economic wars, and foreign allies getting involved rarely made things better in the end. Telling argument.
    I told him he was the first person (other than Almanackers) to bring up the 1870 Franco-German War since uni days! Cheers!

  13. Just read this in Manchester as the rain falls outside.

    Thanks, PB. A fine thoughtful piece indeed.

  14. G’day PB. I can’t say I know a huge amount about the 1870 Franco-German War, though I know a bit about the Paris Commune. The defence of Paris against the invaders, whilst the rest of the French military fell apart, made many Parisians feel they were good enough to take their destiny in their own hands. They did for a short time but the French military proved more effective against their own people that the invaders. It shows ordinary people just can’t seize power without establishing their own state aparatus but that’s another story for another time; now back to the topic of Bazball.

    Bazball, the cult of the offensive, certainly caught the Australians on the the hop but the Australians saw through this, being adroit enough to put in place a way of stifling this cult of the offensive; Rain. Yep if you are able to turn the home sides traditional climatic ally against them you can counter Bazball. Yep for future encounters Australia has Rain as its counter for Bazball.

    More to say, though I’ll hold it for now.

    Glen!

  15. Thanks Glen. Trying to pick apart the underlying ideas behind Bazball and extend them into other sports/life/society is interesting. I’m only a casual observer of cricket these days – Smokie, JTH, Flynny and others are much better qualified on the specifics. But in general my sense was that the intuitive, attacking, “chaos ball” actually triumphed. McCullum the coach as a facilitator of player inititiative and spontaneity triumphed over the McDonald/Australian tightly controlled “defensive” game plan.
    Rain seems an unreliable ally in an era of global warming. Test cricket has always been a game where batters “preserving your wicket” was a premium – because there are no second chances. But we saw in the last 3 tests that defensive strategy was no great guarantee of self preservation and the English approach of “making hay while the sun shines” was actually more cost effective.
    Dunno what it means for Aussie Rules and other sports – but as a sceptic of the guru coach/great leader cult in sport, society and politics – I like the McCullum/Stokes approach. Maybe it’s all a big game of Rock/Paper/Scissors and anticipating if all the opponents are buying Scissors – it’s best to be counter-intuitive and buy Rocks. Cheers.

  16. Catching up on my reading PB. Outstanding work here.

    I’m intrigued about the whole BazBall sales pitch, as if its something new. Have the Poms not heard of Gilchrist, Slater, Langer, Hayden etc? They played BazBall in controlled spurts (though often uncontrolled shots) and took games away from the Poms regularly. So the Poms can spare me the “we’ve saved cricket” nonsense.

    I’ll be really fascinated to see how Brexit is viewed in about 20 years – if I’m still here. I’ll be really interested to see if BazBall “changes” cricket. I think you’re right that it will fade if it fails more often than succeeds. It certainly failed in this Ashes series. In my view. They didn’t win. At home. That’s a loss.

    Brilliant opening about the French soldiers!! Ha!

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