I SPENT seven hours yesterday watching a TV screen like it was my heart monitor on an ICU ward.
I shouted, cheered, threw things in fury, punched the air, gnashed my teeth, tweeted the word ‘BOOM!’ like an increasingly demented maniac, frenziedly messaged with mates and family on WhatsApp groups, and then finally, performed a delirious one-man victory conga around my house with my two cats.
Stuart Broad celebrates after taking the match-winning wicket in the final Test of the AshesCredit: PA
England have played with ‘sumptuous style, ferocious aggression, and jaw-dropping boldness’Credit: PA
The Bazball mindset, says Piers, is perfect for anyone who wants to make their mark in life
THAT is what the Ashes does to a person who loves cricket as much as I do, especially when it’s the greatest Ashes contest of all time (none before has ever seen all five Test matches end so closely).
England’s thrilling win over Australia, to level a series 2-2 that we were losing 2-0 at one stage and would have won had rain not wrecked the third Test match at Old Trafford when we had the Aussies ten feet in the grave with a shovel in our hands, wasn’t just a moment for the ages in our country’s sporting history.
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It was also the ultimate vindication of a stunning new philosophy dubbed Bazball, based on the attack-minded ethos and swashbuckling spirit of England’s coach Brendon ‘Baz’ McCullum, and captain Ben Stokes.
These two men were brought in 14 months ago to revitalise English cricket which was in the doldrums after winning just one Test match in 17.
And they’ve sensationally transformed our fortunes, winning 13 out of their 18 Test matches in charge.
But it’s not just their extraordinary success that has enthralled the nation, just when we needed something to cheer us up amid the miserable fall-out from the deadly Covid pandemic, the worst cost-of-living crisis in memory, and an ongoing war in Europe.
It’s the way they and their team have done it with such sumptuous style, thrilling panache, ferocious aggression, and jaw-dropping boldness.
And I believe the Bazball mindset is a perfect mindset for anyone who wants to make their mark in life, never mind cricket.
It reminds me so much of my favourite movie scene from Rocky Balboa when Rocky finally loses it with his spoiled, entitled son and gives him a thunderously evocative life lesson:
“The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows,” he tells him. “It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth, but you gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that!”
Substitute ‘the Ashes’ for ‘the world’ and you’ll get the drift of what’s gone down in the past five weeks.
I recite quotes from Rocky’s magnificent speech to my own three sons numerous times a year, often to their intense irritation, but they get the point, and it usually achieves the desired effect of pumping them up into a stronger place to deal with whatever negative stuff they’re dealing with.
And that, to me, is the crucial thing about life.
Anyone can handle the good stuff, but it’s how you handle the bad that will define your fortunes.
The reason England’s players looked so jubilant at the moment of triumph yesterday was because they’ve all known the bitter pain of defeat, of injury, of being dropped, of dreams shattered.
Take wicket-keeper Jonny Bairstow, who after a scintillatingly successful year in 2022 broke his leg so badly in a freak golf course accident last September that his surgeon feared he may never play cricket again.
Yet here he was, fighting for the Ashes again, and proving all the critics wrong who mocked him for rusty mistakes early in the series, by becoming one of our MVPs as it went on.
Or take Ben Stokes, who was staring a prison cell in the face in 2018 after getting into a late-night drunken brawl, only to be acquitted in court after it was revealed he’d gone to the aid of two gay men being abused by homophobic morons.
‘A savage warrior with movie star looks’
Nobody better epitomises the buccaneering never-say-die spirit of this team than Stuart Broad, one of England’s all-time greatest players who retired during this game and managed to hit his last ever ball for six and take the last winning wicket in a perfect send-off to a wonderful career.
Broad’s a savage warrior with movie star looks, a ruthless assassin with a ball in his hand, but a charming and intelligent man off the pitch.
We shared a gloriously long and non-abstemious lunch after last year’s season ended, along with his England teammates Jimmy Anderson and Jack Leach, and they were all buzzing then with how exciting they found the Bazball philosophy.
“It gives us the freedom to be who we want to be,” Broad told me that day, “and to express ourselves how we want to express ourselves.”
Isn’t that what we all want to have in life?
Eight years ago, I was in the star-studded audience at the GQ Men of the Year Awards in London when Broad won the Outstanding Achievement Award after bowling England to their 2015 Ashes victory.
“I feel a bit overawed to be here tonight,” he said, when he got on stage. “I feel very lucky to have played in this Ashes series with 12 other guys who work so hard but also had a huge amount of fun and I always believe in sport if you’re having fun, you generally play at your best.”
Then he looked around the room full of Hollywood A-listers like Samuel L. Jackson and Paul Rudd and chuckled: “I know only Piers Morgan and my girlfriend watch cricket… but we all like beating the Aussies, don’t we…?”
The room roared with laughter – and agreement.
Broad’s girlfriend then was lingerie model Bealey Mitchell, but they split 18 months later, and he’s now engaged to pop star Mollie King with whom he has a baby daughter.
They were both at the Oval yesterday to see their man do his thing one more time, and now he will take up a new career as a commentator for Sky Sports.
‘Don’t be a wokie’
But Bazball lives on under Stokes and McCullum’s leadership, and every new recruit to this England team will only be picked if they embrace it with the hunger of a ravenous lion spying a freshly slain gazelle in the Bush.
There will be no room for shirkers, or safety-first gutless wonders.
And as the dust settles on this wondrous Ashes battle, I urge everyone to adopt a bit of Bazball in your lives.
Back yourself, be fearless, take risks, don’t avoid them for fear of losing, never give up, keep pushing forward, and most importantly of all, enjoy your life.
Love your family, love your friends, work hard, play hard, and never take ‘no’ for answer when it comes to realising your ambition if you can find someone else to say yes.
Don’t be one of those dreary dullards who sits in the safety of the shadowy sidelines, content to lead a life of woeful mediocrity, and constantly chuntering away about those who put their heads over the parapet and actually do something with themselves.
And don’t be a wokie who whines about absolutely everything, permanently plays the victim, and blames everyone else for their own mistakes.
Instead, be a Woaksie, in honour of England’s man-of-the-series Chris Woakes whose mental strength and resilience through tough times embodies the Bazball grit that goes with the glory.
Because that, as Rocky said, is how winning it done.
Rocky tells us life is about how hard you can get hit – and keep moving forwardCredit: Alamy
England’s new philosophy is based on the swashbuckling spirit of coach Brendon ‘Baz’ McCullum, right, and captain Ben Stokes, leftCredit: PA
Broad’s fiancee Mollie King and daughter Annabella greeted him after the fairytale end to his careerCredit: Getty
Piers watches from the stands during ‘the greatest Ashes contest of all time’Credit: Rex