Bazball: New book tells the inside story of Bazball and Yorkshire's part in it

THE history of cricket is littered with some classic sledges.

Many were supplied by our own Fred Trueman, with his rapier-like wit and instinctive repartee.

Among the finest of recent times was uttered by another Yorkshireman - Alex Lees.

It came during the Edgbaston Test against India in 2022.

Baz and Ben, the Bazball men. Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images.Baz and Ben, the Bazball men. Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images.
Baz and Ben, the Bazball men. Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images.

Lees was being goaded from the slip cordon by Virat Kohli.

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According to Lees, who left Yorkshire for Durham in 2018, Kohli was “carrying on for quite a while”.

The left-hander said: “Because I was an inexperienced international, he was trying to use his weight. It was pretty poor cricket chat.

“He was just carrying on in a fashion he can do sometimes. He had been getting under people’s skin in the field when he was batting.”

Bazball: The Inside Story of a Test Cricket RevolutionBazball: The Inside Story of a Test Cricket Revolution
Bazball: The Inside Story of a Test Cricket Revolution

“I’m not fussed about someone’s position in the game,” added Lees. “We are all equal out on the pitch. I just wasn’t going to put up with someone trying to intimidate me. It was as simple as that. He is an incredible player, but I thought he was just being a bit of an idiot.”

Eventually, Lees snapped.

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To the world’s richest and most famous cricketer, albeit a man who had not scored an international hundred since 2019, he turned round and said: “I’ve had two kids since you last scored a century.”

Somewhere, up in the great pavilion in the sky, Fred Trueman was no doubt chuckling away to himself through plumes of pipe smoke.

The Tour: The Story of the England Cricket Team Overseas 1877-2022.The Tour: The Story of the England Cricket Team Overseas 1877-2022.
The Tour: The Story of the England Cricket Team Overseas 1877-2022.

If you can’t take it, Virat, don’t dish it out, lad...

Lees’s magnificent riposte took place during the earliest days of Bazball, the subject of a new book which details how England have revolutionised the way Test cricket is played.

Lees was one of the first disciples and the first regular to fall by the wayside too; the 30-year-old’s last Test appearance, against South Africa at the Oval in September 2022, followed a number of promising if indeterminate scores which lacked the place-cementing security of a hundred of his own.

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Lees may come again - he has just had an excellent season for Durham, just as England have come again under Bazball’s architects: coach Brendon ‘Baz’ McCullum, from whose nickname it derives, and captain Ben Stokes.

Dales, Bails and Cricket Club Tales.Dales, Bails and Cricket Club Tales.
Dales, Bails and Cricket Club Tales.

So successful has been Bazball, with England following a run of just one win in 17 Tests prior to McCullum and Stokes joining forces in the summer of 2022 with 13 victories in their last 18 Tests, Bazball has been recognised by the Collins English Dictionary - a seal of approval beyond the boundary rope.

Yorkshire, in fact, have featured prominently in its growth. Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, Harry Brook… all have played their part in a riveting revival.

One of the book’s chapters is actually called “Strong Yorkshire…”, a reference to the cliche that “a strong Yorkshire is a strong England”.

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But in the first few months of Bazball, especially, it was a cliche for a reason: between June 2022 and February this year, two-thirds of England’s 18 hundreds were scored by that trio.

Brook, its youngest member, who has known nothing but Bazball since making his Test debut, epitomises its play-without-fear ethos.

The book’s co-authors, the brilliant Lawrence Booth and Nick Hoult, respectively editor of Wisden and chief cricket correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, asked Brook to expound on what Bazball means to him.

Yorkshire Grit: The Life of Ray Illingworth.Yorkshire Grit: The Life of Ray Illingworth.
Yorkshire Grit: The Life of Ray Illingworth.

“Good question,” he replied. “The coach doesn’t like the phrase. It’s banned in the dressing room. Nobody uses it… If you asked people in the pub, they would say you smack it. But for us it is a bit different.

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“As a batting group, when you get an opportunity to score you take it and don’t hold back. You go hard at them. You’re not there to survive.

“Bazball is about the team, not yourself. And enjoying each other’s success.”

McCullum’s dislike of the term - he doesn’t want people to think it is all about him - is well known. Less so, perhaps, is how the term started.

As this excellent book explains, the perfect stocking-filler (hint), it seems it was first used on a podcast for the ESPNcricinfo website in May last year, less than a fortnight after McCullum was appointed.

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Andrew Miller, the website’s UK editor, was speaking about the retention of Zak Crawley and the promotion of Ollie Pope when he said: “Already you can sense there are mindset shifts going on. Obviously come the Headingley Test in late June it will be full-out total cricket and Bazball. Bring it on.”

Alan Gardner, the podcast’s host, replied: “Bazball sounds like it might be worth the entry fee.”

In the words of Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman, not ‘arf...

Bazball has reconnected English cricket with its supporters and breathed much-needed life into the five-day format. Not that too many games last the full five days under McCullum and Stokes.

* Bazball: The Inside Story of a Test Cricket Revolution, by Lawrence Booth and Nick Hoult, is published by Bloomsbury, priced £22.

SANTA has sent three other books to YP Towers…

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The Tour: The Story of the England Cricket Team Overseas 1877-2023, by Simon Wilde, and published by Simon & Schuster, priced £25, is a magnificent account by the Sunday Times cricket correspondent.

Wilde explores the history of the tour, with all its colour and its quirk, in a superbly researched narrative brimming with insights.

Dales, Bails and Cricket Club Tales, available on Kindle and in paperback via Amazon, is a collection of articles from the excellent cricket website

John Fuller, the man behind it, treats us to another captivating collection of articles from his travels around the local cricket club scene, skilfully bringing the places and people to life.

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And Yorkshire Grit: The Life of Ray Illingworth, by Mark Peel and published by Pitch, priced £25, is a splendidly readable biography of the Yorkshire and England legend, who died on Christmas Day two years ago, aged 89.

Peel traces Illingworth’s rise through the tough world of Yorkshire cricket, of which his subject became an exemplar, on to England, Leicestershire and back to Yorkshire again.

Another perfect Christmas gift.

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