We are living in an increasingly disruptive world where incumbent beliefs and approaches are challenged at an unprecedented pace. Not all disruptions work, some do fade away. To figure out ex-ante what’s likely to work and what’s not, we look at various disruptive instances and draw lessons from them. This piece discusses what is perhaps the biggest disruption, the format of Test cricket is witnessing today – Bazball, the brand of aggressive cricket that English coach Brendon McCullum and its flamboyant captain Ben Stokes have seeded over the past two years and succeeded at. Atleast until earlier this week when England lost the first Ashes test. With India no longer playing Pakistan regularly, the Ashes remains the last rivalry in the world of cricket, resulting in some fierce criticism of Bazball.
“It was, as the Daily Star put it, “a real kick in the Bazballs… “England have got carried away with Bazball and seem to think entertaining is more important than winning,” wrote Geoffrey Boycott in The Telegraph, while George Dobell – formerly of this parish – pointed out in The Cricketer that this was “not the primary school egg and spoon. It’s the Ashes”…. Even the reliably trenchant Nasser Hussain, speaking on Sky Sports moments after the result, reminded viewers that England had not lost a home Ashes series since 2001 by playing “the old-fashioned way”, and that they “didn’t need ‘Bazball’ to beat Australia … You can’t hide behind [wanting to entertain].””.
In this article, Andrew Miller makes a nuanced argument drawing lessons from the game of poker about why one loss shouldn’t reverse what is not just an entertaining brand of cricket but also a winning strategy.
“Poignantly, the final word on Bazball’s viability would surely have been delivered by the one man who would have loved it more than any other onlooker.
When, in the latter years of his tragically all-too-short life, the late great Shane Warne turned his hand to poker to replicate the competitive thrill that had powered his mighty Test career, he used to talk of the need to project a table image, to ensure that – as often as possible – you were playing the man, not the cards, as the action unfolded in front of you.
It’s counterinituitive in terms of conventional sporting strategy, but in poker terms, it’s designed to bypass the vagaries of luck that will inevitably clean your stack out every once in a while. If you keep making the right choices against the right opponents, in the manner that matches the hand you are representing, you will surely end up winning more than you will lose.
It’s only under such conditions that Root, for instance, could correctly surmise that Pat Cummins’ opening gambit on day four of an Ashes series would be to hit that channel outside off, and therefore a pre-emptive reverse-ramp makes for an entirely logical and correct response. And only a captain who knows the nihilism at Bazball’s core could possibly declare at 393 for 8 after 78 overs on the opening day of the series – a move designed, as he said, to throw his opponents clean off their game.
On this occasion, it did not work. But that’s not quite the same as it being a wrong option. For the sake of the rest of a now short-stacked series, Stokes has no option but to buy back in, and go again. Warnie, for one, would approve.”
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