BazballMartin Chandler |
Author: Booth, Lawrence and Hoult, Nick
Rating: 5 stars
I have long bemoaned the demise of the tour book, but in truth that is mainly the collector in me, irritated by the fact that there isn’t at least one book on my shelves on every Test series that has been played, or at least the ‘proper’ ones, by which I mean those that extend over at least four Tests.
Writers have been producing accounts of tours since cricket literature began, the first appearing almost twenty years before Test cricket began, with James Lillywhite’s account of the visit of a dozen English professionals to North America back in 1859.
In years to come the Ashes became one of publishers’ favourite subjects. Some series, especially those when England succeeded, generated upwards of ten titles, most recently 2005. But that was the high watermark, and the wave has rapidly slowed to a trickle.
The problem is that these days everyone can see the action, and see it from every angle and in perpetuity. No match report, however well written, is going to add anything meaningful to the ability to view the action and listen to the contemporaneous commentary as often as any cricket lover wants to.
So there is no real market for the sort of books the likes of Jack Fingleton, Lyn Wellings and John Arlott regularly published in the post war years, but as Bazball demonstrates it is still possible to write a compelling tour account, even if the ground rules for that have changed.
The 2023 Ashes series comprised five thrilling Tests, two won by England, two by Australia and one, almost inevitably at Old Trafford, was won by Jupiter Pluvius with England a close second. With all five Tests squeezed into a little over six weeks and England roaring back after going 2-0 down it was, most certainly, a summer to remember.
What then does a tour book for the 2020s look like? There is, naturally, an account of each of the five Tests, but those are only a dozen pages each, and aren’t a traditional description of the play. Instead Booth and Hoult look at the controversial moments, the difficult decisions and the reactions to them as well as some impressions of the events that unfolded.
The bulk of the narrative is therefore devoted not to the cricket actually played last summer, but to an analysis of the recent history of the England red ball team, and an examination of the cricketing philosophy that underpins it, the concept that gives the book its title.
The story began with that hugely disappointing reverse in the West Indies, suffered as recently as March of last year. It seems a world away now, as the new broom of Rob Key, Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes has completely reworked England’s approach to Test cricket.
The identity of Bazball’s authors is important. One is Lawrence Booth who, as editor of Wisden, has just about the most important job in cricket writing. Nick Hoult’s position, as cricket correspondent of the Daily Telegraph is not much less significant. No doubt it is those credentials that led to just about all involved in the ‘revolution’ being happy to be interviewed for the book, which in turn makes the final result an authoritative one.
In the age of social media all with an interest in the game are bombarded with opinions, some better informed than others, on every aspect of ‘Bazball’. Most are polarised however, so it is difficult to get a balanced opinion on questions like who should keep wicket for England, and which side of the line drawn by the spirit of cricket Alex Carey’s stumping of Jonny Bairstow at Lord’s fell.
For each of the controversial aspects of ‘Bazball’, and there are a large number of them, Hoult and Booth set out out both sides of the argument, and the contrasting views of those involved. My mind wasn’t changed about either of the specific examples quoted above, but I can see now that both arguments are rather more nuanced than I had previously realised.
The great advantage of Bazball is that it is so much more than an account of a single series, and that it looks into every aspect of the way the England team have been managed and have performed since the new regime took over. There is much within its covers about the individuals involved, not least Zak Crawley. Of all those involved in the 2023 Ashes Crawley is probably the most interesting. Much maligned in the past, from the very first delivery in this summer’s Ashes Crawley amply rewarded the seemingly endless faith placed in him.
Until now the best cricket books have always looked backwards, and involve thorough research and, most importantly, the input of as many of those who shaped their subject matter as are available. It had never occurred to me before reading Bazball that the same principle should apply to a book about the here and now, but it does. This one is a fascinating read, and confirms and enhances the reputations of both its authors.