You can’t open a news section of a newspaper here in the UK without seeing English cricket’s Kiwi-led revolution splashed across the pages of the nation’s fish-and-chip wrappers.
The swashbuckling, aggressive approach to test cricket of the Stokes/McCullum ticket is the most exciting thing to happen to the game since the dear-departed St Shane of Black Rock strolled to the bowling crease reeking of durries.
Gilchrist, Sehwag and Richards are being made to look like Boycott by the Big Six Energy of this modern brand of English batsman who isn’t satisfied with merely scoring at a-run-a-ball.
But are Freo really going so bad that I’ve resorted to playing fantasy county cricket to bring some semblance of sporting joy to my life? Only partially.
More Amarossi Than Barassi
To borrow a line from Judas Iscariot (by way of Andrew Lloyd Webber), if you strip away the myth from the man, what is BazBall? To my mind, it’s giving players permission to fail, and trusting them to succeed.
Batting is largely a one-chance game. You never know when you’ll get one with your name on it and it won’t always be the best ball you face - if you face it at all. BazBall is about removing the fear of what might happen if you get “that ball” at the wrong time.
So what if you snick off chasing one you’re trying to hit for four? If that happens every time you bat, then maybe it’s time to have a chat about how you approach that ball, but for the most part, you’re trying to advance the game to the benefit of the team.
Are you starting to see how this relates to the Dockers yet?
You can’t play perfect cricket for 5 days. Hell, most people can’t play perfect cricket for more than about 2 overs at a time. And you certainly can’t play perfect football for 120 minutes - at least not without limiting your ability to win the game.
As much as certain quarters of the game might want it to be, the AFL is not the NFL. You cannot have a Kyle Shanahan-style team where every offensive play has a right answer, and all it takes is a quarterback who knows the answers to have the team humming like a well-oiled machine.
It’s hard to tell from the other side of the world, but to me, it looks like we are constantly looking for the perfect option, rather than the best option on the balance of probabilities. There are no right answers in the AFL test. It’s jazz, not Sale of the Century.
In Worse Nick Than William Bligh
Most Australian cricket fans who aren’t plugged into the fortunes of our Ashes rivals will tell you that Ben Stokes is England’s most important player. And in a sense he is - but he’s also lucky to be in the team on form.
Stokes is currently closer to 06/07 Flintoff than 05 Flintoff, yet he’s the physical embodiment of BazBall, in the same way Voss and Hodge were emblematic of their team’s sustained run of success.
Stokes is playing the game with abandon verging on recklessness. The counter-puncher we saw at Headingley in the last away Ashes series is still in there somewhere, but his all-out attack mindset gives his teammates no excuse not to follow him. He might be the only captain in sports in worse nick than our own Alex Pearce.
When I close my eyes and think of The Moose - once I get past the visions of those flowing brown locks - the defining image is of his charging straight-line attack on a ball in dispute. I’d go so far as to say that’s his trademark, yet every time the opportunity has presented itself this season, he’s opted for the more conservative approach - and far too often that’s cost the team more than a turnover 60 or 70 metres downfield.
If the captain is afraid of making a mistake taking the game on, then how can we expect the other 17 guys on the field to take those risks as well?
BazBall vs LongBall
It’s clear that all-out attack is not going to be an option for us - and it probably shouldn’t be either given that’s not how our list has been built. But if you’re going to load the list up with running halfbacks, then what’s the point of not letting them run?
McCullum has a clear vision of how he wants to play and has handpicked the players he thinks are most capable of playing that style. And he’s letting them play to their strengths, rather than worrying about their shortcomings.
I don’t think we need to look further than everyone’s new favourite whipping boy - Corey Wagner - for evidence here. When we drafted him, we heard about how he’s Jack Sinclair lite and will add to our run and carry off halfback. I could be mistaken but I’m yet to see him run or carry the ball. I’ve seen him turn it over plenty though.
Instead of asking JLo “why is this bloke playing?” we should be asking “why is this bloke playing if we aren’t going to maximise his abilities?” You can say the same about Jordan Clark or Hayden Young or Liam Henry or Nathan Wilson.
The Chief has been banging on about the lack of rogues on our list. I’m more worried about the coach’s preference for a role player with a high floor and low ceiling than someone potentially more liable to make mistakes, yet with greater potential for brilliance. The on-field rogue if you will.
Sidenote - This Ethan Hughes on the wing experiment raises all the same questions as 1998’s Armageddon - is it easier to train an astronaut (winger) to drill (defender) than it is a driller (defender) to become an astronaut (winger)?
Method vs Madness
In the world of sport, BazBall is the young hip-thrusting Elvis singing about dogs and jail on TV while the 2023 Fremantle Dockers are knocking on the neighbour’s door to see if they have any pearls we can borrow to clutch.
Clearly, JLo favours method over madness - and that’s totally fine - but methodical doesn’t necessarily mean conservative. England is prepared to risk losing to win, we aren’t even prepared to give up possession for the potential to kick a goal.
But worst of all, we’ve become a harder team to watch than we are to play. Improvement isn’t always linear, and maybe this is the recession we had to have (sorry Paul) in a sense. Winning less than 10 games would suck, but it’s going to suck even more if we aren't seeing those green shoots for next year.
JLo is not going to wake up one morning, tear up his game plan and become a helter-skelter attacking coach, but he can roll into work, make his cup of Blend 43 and talk to the team about mindset.
So give these kids a chance to fail this season, so we set them up to succeed next year and beyond. The tinkering How So Suma was calling for is not going to happen on the green stuff for us to be successful - it’s going to have to happen between the ears. That’s the BazBall inspiration we need from our coaching staff.
And BazBall or not - we’re still gonna thrash those pommy bastards this English summer.