The Garrulous Jay – Bazball

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I’m no cricket aficionado but I’ve been intrigued by this year’s Ashes series, and the constant references I’ve heard throughout to something called “Bazball”. The contest concluded on Monday and the result was a 2-2 draw meaning Australia retained The Ashes, but many would argue it was Bazball that was the real winner.

So what is Bazball and what can we learn from it?

Wikipedia carries the following definition: “The Bazball style and mindset is said to have an emphasis on taking positive decisions in attack and defence, whether batting or in the field… Since the inception of the style until June 2023, England averaged a run rate of 4.65 per over, significantly higher than the next highest in Test match history. A faster scoring rate has allowed the team to declare their innings earlier and seek a result where ordinarily a draw would occur.”

Seeking a slightly less technical description I asked a couple of my mates how they would define Bazball. One said, “an aggressive style of play”, the other simply used the word “excitement”.

I therefore think there are at least two key elements to the Bazball philosophy.

The first is the way in which this approach to cricket effectively adopts the old mantra that “fortune favours the brave”. In the past it might be argued that England’s test team has been more concerned with not losing Ashes series, than actually winning them, allowing Australian sides to impose their style of play and thereby win matches. Not any more under Head Coach, Brendan “Baz” McCullum, and Captain Ben Stokes.

Secondly, I think Bazball carries within its approach a recognition that professional sport is part of the entertainment industry. As such, it has been evident in interviews given by Stokes that he has been determined to give England fans a great day out, come what may in terms of the result, although no one should doubt his determination to win.

Cricket fans, like all sports fans, crave “excitement”. This year’s Ashes has delivered in spades.

When it comes to investing not everyone is seeking precisely the same thrill, in fact quite the opposite for many, but there are still parallels in the world of ‘active’ fund management.

Many funds that are actively managed are what are known as ‘closet trackers’. In other words, they closely replicate the index against which they are benchmarked. Rather than “taking positive decisions” their managers are driven not to deviate too much from their benchmark by a fear of underperformance.

Closet trackers should generally be avoided: they are a potentially expensive and riskier way of achieving the same return as the index against which they are measured. No Bazball here! Investors would be better off buying a tracker fund.

At a more fundamental level, therefore, fund managers that cling to their benchmark or buy the ‘safe’ stocks no one will beat them up for owning are forgetting why investors have given them their money… Their clients are taking greater risk in the hope of higher long-term returns, and expect their investments to reflect this.