Friday, June 14, 2024

GB men hoping ‘Bazball’ outlook can pave way to Paris hockey gold

The heavy metal chords of ‘Bazball’ continue to reverberate around British sport and now Team GB’s men’s hockey team hope the philosophy can catapult them to Olympic gold, writes Tom Harle.

The attacking approach popularised by Brendon McCullum’s Test cricket side has become a movement in high performance circles, a byword for removing invisible barriers to success.

Hockey is the latest sport to take up the mantle, propelled towards Paris 2024 by head coach Paul Revington who preaches positivity in a bid to make history.

The question Revington asks his players every day is a simple one.

“We have a saying, if a man and his dog walk past our training pitch, would they stop?”

The South African wants every training session to be a spectacle and has had to rewire Britain’s hockey DNA to make that happen as the men chase a first hockey gold since 1988.

“It is definitely shackles off, which hasn’t always been GB’s main philosophy,” he says.

“The word to capture it would be relentless and the way the guys have trained and played for a long time has been relentless.”

These aren’t just words – it’s working. European silver in the summer was England’s best result in 14 years and only the third time they’d ever made the final.

Revington’s side finished second in last season’s Pro League – their highest-ever finish since the circuit’s inception – a 16-game, six-month long test against the top teams in the world.

If Revington is McCullum, then the part of Ben Stokes is played by Zach Wallace.

Nominated for the FIH Rising Star of the Year Award in 2019 and this year for the senior men’s award, he’s one of the most gifted players in the world game. The 24-year-old’s stunning ‘tomahawk’ volleyed strike against New Zealand in April has been heralded as one of the greatest hockey goals in recent memory and is emblematic of his team’s approach.

“The style of play we had before wasn’t really true to the personalities we had,” says Wallace. “We’re ruthless, relentless and it suits the young and hungry group we have.”

Phil Roper, middle, during GB’s opening win against South Africa at Tokyo Olympics REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

Such strikes as the tomahawk are no accident – Wallace tries them every day in training. He tells of one incident where he nearly got injured trying a creative finish.

“We don’t have a training session where we come off thinking, ‘that was chilled out,’” said Wallace. “We’re crawling off the pitch. It’s brutal, and it’s exactly what we wanted.”

Striker Phil Roper has been part of the GB programme for a decade and a veteran of the quarter-final exit at the Tokyo Olympics.

“Working with Revs has given me a new lease of life,” says Roper. “I’m still learning at 31 and this is the most exciting group I’ve ever been part of.”

Building Bazball isn’t a case of hit and hope. Roper and Wallace are on UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme, allowing them to train full time, have access to the world’s best coaches and benefitting from pioneering medical support – vital for their pathway to Paris and another weapon in Revington’s arsenal.

“Bazball isn’t something we talk about in the locker room but there’s a structure to our game you could equate to Bazball,” says Revington. “The England cricket team don’t just go out and swing. There are a lot of dimensions to it and it’s constantly changing.”

As hockey prepares for its four-yearly entry into the national consciousness at the Games, the question on the lips of Team GB fans will be whether these Bazballers can emulate the boys of ‘88.

Revington says: “The answer to that is yes, most definitely. Without a doubt.”

National Lottery players raise more than £30million a week for good causes including vital funding into sport – from grassroots to elite. Find out how your numbers make amazing happen at: #TNLAthletes #MakeAmazingHappen 

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