It was the 1992 World Cup when a Kiwi from Auckland changed the way limited-overs cricket would be played. Martin Crowe figured that the first 15 overs of the game against the new ball was the time to attack with the bat, a theory that stunned the cricket world and took the Kiwis to the semis, till they were stopped by Inzamam ul Haq.
Cut to 2015 ODI World Cup and here was Brendon McCullum, nicknamed Baz, who was hell-bent on bringing about another change. For the then captain of the New Zealand team, every ball was an opportunity to score and playing only for survival was not an option — the birth of Baz Ball as we call it today. New Zealand won a few matches that way, but when McCullum himself perished in the first over of the final, playing an attacking heave that led to a tame loss, one felt the best batsman in the team could have given himself a bit more time.
But for the Kiwi, it was a philosophy and he was not ready to compromise. He played all his cricket that way — his century in his last Test innings being the fastest in the history of the game — and when he became the coach of Kolkata Knight Riders, it was this philosophy that he tried to bring in. And it worked in the second half of the 2021 season when KKR made the final in UAE after a terrible start in the India leg.
KKR, though, lived and died by the philosophy, as from a position of comfort in the final against CSK with nine wickets in hand, they seemed to throw it away trying to go for shots every ball. But the losses couldn’t deter McCullum when he decided to take over as the England coach. Just as a Pep Guardiola makes the team believe in his philosophy before trying to execute it on the field, McCullum did with his new project England, who had hit an unbelievable low in Test cricket after humiliation against India at home and the Ashes Down Under.
It was easier for McCullum to make England believe in his idea because he had a captain — Ben Stokes — whose thought process is similar.
Some of Stokes’ best moments have come because of this no-holds-barred attitude and it was easier for Baz to impress upon Stokes than somebody who has a more orthodox approach.
But was England’s incredible chase against India only about Baz Ball? No it wasn’t.
The second innings was about a brilliant batsman (Root) and another swashbuckler (Bairstow) in the form of their lives. But in the first innings, when England scored only 284 under extreme pressure, they got it in only 61.3 overs. It left them with enough time to launch a comeback in the second innings, which wouldn’t have been possible if they had got the same runs in 120 overs, the way they did in 2021.
But then, Baz Ball is not just about numbers, it’s also about a mindset. It’s a belief that every ball is a scoring opportunity that makes Root, a traditionalist all his life, play reverse sweeps against pacers bowling at 140 km/hr. It’s the new normal and as cricket observers, we are lapping up every moment of this red-ball revolution.


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